Madison (WQOW) -- Top Walker administration officials pitched their incentive package aimed at luring Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn to Wisconsin at a public hearing Thursday, but they faced some tough questions from Democratic lawmakers.
The Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy heard testimony from 23 invited speakers as well as members of the public.
The incentive package would award Foxconn up to $3 billion dollars if they invest $10 billion of their own money and create 13,000 jobs at the facility they plan to build in Racine County or Kenosha County.
Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Secretary Mark Hogan told the committee that Foxconn officials plan to pay hourly machine operators a starting salary of $20 per hour.
That comes out to $41,600 per year.
Hogan said the company won't get any tax incentives for jobs that pay below $30,000 per year.
But Democrats said the company should put starting salaries in writing.
"I want some guarantee that this will somehow be negotiated," said Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee). "We managed to do it with the Milwaukee Bucks (arena) to make sure anybody associated with that project, working on that project - and after the project's finished - will be getting paid a fair salary."
Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel said that won't be necessary, because the high tech nature of the jobs will demand those wages.
"They have to make sure - to attract the talent that they want - that they'll have to pay 20 dollars and up," said Neitzel. "And as Mark (Hogan) said, if they don't pay it - they don't get the credit."
It also became clear during the hearing that the state could end up paying for most of the $252 million in bonding proposed for I-94 North-South road improvements related to the Foxconn development.
The legislation requires a federal match on those dollars, but WISDOT Secretary Dave Ross said that match doesn't have to be for a specific dollar amount.
In other words, even if it is for as little as $1 million, the state could still borrow the full $252 million for the improvements in the Racine and Kenosha areas.
That is not how Assembly Republicans characterized the proposed federal match at a news conference on Tuesday, and the revelation from Ross could change their thinking on the bonding issue.
The issue of the legislation exempting Foxconn from several state environmental requirements also came up during the hearing.
The company would not have to get wetlands or waterway permits from the DNR.
The legislation also allows the company to reroute streams if they feel it's necessary for the construction of the facility.
There is nothing in the legislation that puts a limit on how long that type of rerouting would be allowed to last.
Democrats said they worry it could potentially cause problems with flooding and other issues.
"So, basically we can change the courses of these streams anywhere from 4 to 6 years, when we talk about the construction of this. Can that have an adverse affect on the environment in that area?," asked Rep. David Crowley (D-Milwaukee).
"It does give the department (DNR) the ability - if there is determined that it is going to be impacting the public trust, navigation, or a significant environmental impact - to require a permit in those instances," said DNR Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede.
The legislation would also exempt the company from providing an environmental impact statement. Those are used to examine the potential impacts a project could have on an area's natural resources.
While Thiede answered questions from committee members, he provided no additional testimony on the environmental exemptions.
Committee members also heard no testimony from representatives of the US Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Those agencies have jurisdiction over federal wetlands that will be impacted by the project, but they were not invited to speak by Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee), who chairs the committee.
Because the committee invited so many speakers to the hearing - which started at 1:30 p.m. - members of the public were still waiting to testify at 7:30 p.m.
In a surprise move of note, Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin came out against the incentive package Thursday.
In a statement, the conservative lobbying group said the giveaway to Foxconn was simply too much.
"As free market activists who staunchly oppose government tax incentives, we cannot support the expensive refundable tax credits in this package, which are not available to every other business in our state," wrote Eric Bott, AFP Wisconsin's state director.
The Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy is expected to vote on the incentive package next Tuesday.