Department of Administration Secretary-designee Joel Brennan on Wednesday told an audience of business leaders the Republican-led Legislature did Gov. Tony Evers' administration "no favors" by curbing the governor's influence on economic development initiatives. He added that the administration has forged a positive relationship with Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation CEO Mark Hogan.
A set of laws passed during a lame-duck session in December gave lawmakers greater influence over WEDC and gave the WEDC board, not the governor, the authority to appoint the agency's CEO. Evers' power to appoint a CEO will be restored in September 2019.
The lame-duck laws also moved an economic development liaison position for the state's Foxconn project from the Department of Administration to WEDC. Evers' budget proposal would return the Foxconn liaison to his administration
Brennan, speaking at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce's Business Day in Madison event, said he spends "some time" working on the Foxconn deal "virtually every day," and visited the project's Mount Pleasant site on Tuesday.
"A lot of the work that we're doing right now is building relationships between the state and the representatives of Foxconn, because there were 18 months or so that the prior administration had to grow those relationships and build those relationships," Brennan said.
Wisconsin's contract with Foxconn, signed by former Gov. Scott Walker, makes the company eligible for up to $3 billion in refundable state tax credits — the largest subsidy to a foreign company in U.S. history — delivered on a "pay as you grow" basis tied to job creation and capital investment benchmarks. If the company fails to meet certain benchmarks, benefits may be clawed back.
Brennan on Wednesday acknowledged a series of recent news reports that raised questions about Foxconn's plans for its facility in southeastern Wisconsin. Foxconn Technology Group has said it will build a Generation 6 facility in Mount Pleasant, but the company originally billed its planned Wisconsin facility as a Generation 10.5 LCD plant.
"The deal that was negotiated between Foxconn and the state has evolved over time, and I think there was an expectation that it was going to evolve. More details were bound to emerge," Brennan said. "And we're at the point now where we're looking forward to seeing more of those details."
Department of Revenue Secretary-designee Peter Barca, who voted in support of the Foxconn deal as a Democratic lawmaker representing Kenosha, said he believes the project is "coming along in a relatively positive fashion."
Barca said he admired Evers for trying to "make the most" of a deal that made many Democrats wary.
He said he believes Foxconn executives are comfortable with their relationship with the new administration.
"From the state’s perspective, the Legislature did us no favors with the work that happened in December, where they set up this kind of uncomfortable situation," Brennan said, adding that he doesn't think it's good for any stakeholders in the project for the Legislature to have more sway over WEDC than the governor does.
Brennan said the Evers administration is "working through that,"
"Mark Hogan, who’s the head of the WEDC, has been great to work with … but those kind of stumbling blocks are not things that I think are conducive to making sure there’s a one-stop shop for economic development in the state, no matter who the governor is," Brennan said.