Sunday, October 21, 2018

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AG mentions welfare program when defending Foxconn incentives

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    The Confluence Arts Center, bottom, and Haymarket Landing are located just south of where the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers meet. .

    Staff file photo

State Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, used a government program more likely to be touted by liberals when he backed the legality of incentives used to secure a $10 billion Foxconn factory.

In the legal brief his office filed last month in the state Supreme Court case of Voters With Facts v. City of Eau Claire, welfare payments were used to illustrate why cash provided to the Taiwan manufacturer is not an illegal property tax cut.

“Notably, Plaintiffs’ apparent theory of the Uniformity Clause — that any cash payment made by a public entity to anyone who also happens to pay any property taxes is unconstitutional — would threaten numerous expenditures under other state programs,” the brief states. “Wisconsin, like every other State, has enacted many spending programs designed to promote the public good, ranging from cash payments to needy families, Wis. Stat. § 49.19(1)(c)1, (5)(a), to scholarships for deserving students, Wis. Stat. § 36.27(3).”

Basically the stance is that welfare payments to families with children, merit scholarships to UW System schools and cash incentives to developers should not be misconstrued as a property tax discount.

It’s a response to Voters With Facts’ claim that payments to a developer with property within a tax incremental finance district are unconstitutional tax rebates in violation of the Uniformity Clause.

That Eau Claire-based group filed its lawsuit, which has been appealed up from the county level to the state Supreme Court, in opposition to local government help to the Confluence Project, which includes a $45 million arts center under construction in downtown Eau Claire.

The attorney general’s office became involved in the case because the court’s decision would impact a TIF district established as part of the large public incentive package used to attract Foxconn’s liquid-crystal display factory and 13,000 jobs with it to southern Wisconsin.

“If this Court were to accept Plaintiffs’ unprecedented attack on these grants, this would imperil numerous projects critical to Wisconsin’s economic growth, including the Village of Mount Pleasant’s recent agreement with Foxconn Technology Group,” the brief states.

When news broke in December that Schimel’s office would be filling a brief in the case, it was specifically for defending the Foxconn deal.

Indeed, the word “Foxconn” appears six times in the 19 pages brief. “Confluence” and “arts center” are absent from the document.

The case’s next scheduled activity is oral arguments on Friday, Feb. 23, in front of the state Supreme Court in Madison.

Milwaukee-based conservative legal group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is aiding Voters With Facts.

In addition to Schimel, others that filed briefs supporting Eau Claire’s use of its TIF powers include the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, cities of Madison and Milwaukee, associations representing Wisconsin cities and towns, the Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Economic Development Association.

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