The Joint Finance committee held a marathon session Tuesday and in the end, advanced some huge policy items. The panel approved a road funding plan that would delay a couple of major freeway projects in Milwaukee County, plus impose new fees on electric and hybrid cars. Lawmakers also rubber stamped a number of changes to the Foxconn deal, and sent the bill back to the Assembly for another vote.
Joint Finance met into the night and approved a slew of ideas, in order to plug a $1 billion hole in the transportation budget. Those include delaying the north end of the Zoo Interchange project and the freeway stretch between Miller Park and the Zoo.
There would be new fees on electric and hybrid vehicles. Hybrid owners would pay an additional $75 on their registration, while electric car owners would pay an additional $100. That’s on top of the $75 that all vehicle owners are paying now.
The plan also includes borrowing $400 million and the committee put limits on how much the city of Milwaukee can spend on the streetcar project.
Democrats blasted the plan, saying Republicans failed to come up with a long term funding solution for roads. Republicans on the committee said they wish they could have done more, but the plan is a good start.
Joint Finance is expected to come back today to finish up. There are only a few items remaining related to taxes, then the $76 million state budget, which is two months late, goes to the full legislature.
In addition to transportation, the Foxconn deal was on the agenda. The Taiwanese electronics giant wants to build a huge LCD screen manufacturing plant in Racine or Kenosha County. In exchange, the state would provide $3 billion in tax incentives for Foxconn.
Republicans introduced a number of amendments and all of them passed. But, the one that raised all the eyebrows would allow the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear any appeals of rulings in lawsuits involving Foxconn – effectively skipping the appeals court process altogether.
Republicans continued to argue that Foxconn would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – the deal is expected to create up to 13,000 jobs.
GOP committee co-chair Alberta Darling urged lawmakers to approve the changes. "Economically, if I were from another state, I would say Wisconsin, you're nuts if you wouldn't take this offer. I mean you are crazy Wisconsin, if you don't take this offer."
But, Democrats such as state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, called an overhaul of the state’s legal process just for one company, disturbing. "So yeah, it's a game changer, it's a court game changer and an environmental game changer, but it's not the kind of game changer you want."
So, where does the Foxconn bill go from here? The Assembly approved the deal a few weeks ago, but now with the amendments, it has to go back there. The bill would also go to the state Senate – leaders in that chamber say they’re ready to take up the incentives package next week.