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Wisconsin senator claims deal is near in Foxconn hunt

July 20, 2017

Wisconsin is negotiating a series of incentives to help lure Taiwanese iPhone manufacturer Foxconn to the state in a deal that could be announced within the next two weeks, Republican state Sen. Luther Olsen said Thursday.

Figuring out how to pay for those incentives could further delay passage of a new Wisconsin state budget, Olsen said. The budget is already three weeks late and Olsen said working in a way to help lure Foxconn is "pretty fresh."

Wisconsin is one of several Midwest states vying for Foxconn as it considers building a $7 billion display panel manufacturing plant that could employ up to 10,000 people. The company is expected to announce its decision by early August.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou said the company is considering Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana and Texas as manufacturing states with which the company hopes to work. Indiana economic development officials have declined to comment on the possibility or say whether they are working with the company.

Michigan passed new economic incentives to sweeten its deal for Foxconn last week.

Foxconn assembles smartphones and other devices for Apple, Sony, Blackberry and other brands. Most of its operations are based in China, where its plants employ about 1 million people.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told AP on Thursday that "huge, big numbers" are being talked about to help land Foxconn. One idea being discussed is using $200 million that Gov. Scott Walker had proposed for a personal income tax cut and diverting it to help pay for transportation funding and possibly Foxconn incentives, Fitzgerald said. But he stressed that possibility was part of a "brainstorming" session he had with Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday.

Vos did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Thursday.

"I think we should hold off on settling the budget until we know what's going on with this," Olsen said.

Passage of the budget has been stalled for three weeks, largely over differences about how to plug a nearly $1 billion transportation fund shortfall. Using the $200 million Walker had wanted to cut income taxes to instead lessen the amount of borrowing needed to pay for roads could be one avenue to reaching a deal.

Adding in Foxconn incentives is a new twist.

"This is something we have to take seriously if they decide to come to Wisconsin," Olsen said of incentives for Foxconn. "We have to make sure we're in fiscal shape to fulfill the obligations that are being presented to Foxconn to come to Wisconsin."

Walker's spokesman Tom Evenson declined to comment about what Olsen said about a pending Foxconn deal. Walker and state economic development officials have repeatedly declined to comment about it, saying they can't discuss ongoing negotiations with potential new businesses.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier this month that he had met with Foxconn officials at the request of Walker and he hoped they would locate a plant in his southeast Wisconsin congressional district near the border with Illinois. And President Donald Trump said in June that his administration was negotiating a U.S. expansion with "a major, major, incredible manufacturer of phones and computers and televisions" and that Walker could be getting a "very happy surprise very soon."

Fitzgerald said last week that he attended a barbecue at the governor's mansion with Walker and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou.

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