It’s easy to call the current Foxconn agreement a ‘bad deal’ because, most certainly, it is. The bill that passed the Wisconsin Assembly sets up over $2.85 billion in state tax credits over the next 15 years, exemptions from sales taxes, and environmental waivers.
The deal’s proponents have pointed out that if it were to fall through, it would make whichever state that does manage to make an agreement with Foxconn very happy. This is undeniable but it’s indicative of the real problem. When elected officials treat our state government as just another player in the market rather than the voice of the people, we end up with an economy without safeguards. Such an economy quickly becomes a race to the bottom, with states fighting over how much of their tax revenue and how many of their environmental protections they can give away just for the privilege of housing an employer. The problem with races to the bottom? You might win.
The temptation is to continue calling this a “bad deal,” but I don’t think that tells the whole story. For me, the issue is bigger than the money saved, or not saved, by taxpayers. It’s not about a good or bad deal, but the role of government in general. More than a government that is simply efficient or that saves me money, I want a government that protects the people and environment of Wisconsin. To call it a deal suggests that the Wisconsin state government is just another business out to make a profit or cut costs. But that is not what our government is (or, at least, that’s not what our government should be).
The Wisconsin State Assembly (who passed the agreement) and the office of the governor (who constructed the agreement) were built to enact the will of the people of our state. And, in that regard, it is not they who make deals, but we who make rules – rules to protect the safety and interests of Wisconsin citizens. In terms of a deal between two financial entities, sure, the deal is ‘bad’. But in terms of an agreement designed to protect Wisconsin, this bill is a colossal failure and a complete perversion of the role of government.
Further, to call it a ‘bad deal’ assumes that the agreement’s proponents didn’t get what they wanted. It’s tempting to criticize Governor Walker, and his allies in the Assembly, on their own terms: to say that if they ‘were really a conservative’ they wouldn’t have resorted to ‘corporate welfare’ or ‘tried to pick winners and losers in the market.’ But, again, I’m not so sure that’s the whole story. Maybe the ‘bad deal’ they’ve made serves their ends perfectly well: By waiving environmental regulations and providing Foxconn with a massive tax cut, the agreement increases the burden on the state’s infrastructure while removing the tax revenue necessary to maintain it. This guarantees further budget shortfalls and other financial dysfunction and makes it easier for ideologues to justify a weaker government, one incapable of meeting the needs of its citizens.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve called it a deal in the past and you’ll probably catch me calling it a deal in the future; it’s an intuitive way to understand and talk about what’s happening. But it’s important to remember that, as progressives, we do have a broader vision for our society, one that includes building a robust and responsive government accountable to its constituents, capable of protecting the people and their interests, and that ensures prosperity for all.