Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Evers said Wednesday if elected he would revisit state air permits issued to electronics maker Foxconn for its $10 billion manufacturing campus near Racine.
Evers, who supports a gradual increase to a $15 minimum wage in Wisconsin, also said he’s open to exceptions to a $15 wage in rural areas and for teenage workers.
And regarding incidences of plagiarism in his budgets at the state Department of Public Instruction, which he leads as superintendent, Evers said he resolved the matter the same he would with a student — by admonishing rather than expelling.
Evers, who made the comments in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board, faces Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the Nov. 6 election.
Walker’s Department of Natural Resources issued the air quality permits in April for the Foxconn campus, now under construction, which will manufacture liquid-crystal-display panels. The company is getting a $3 billion state subsidy package to locate in Wisconsin.
Evers said scientists have told him the permit-approval process was flawed — and indicated he’d be willing to rescind the permits if additional review found Foxconn not meeting air-quality standards. Evers did not specify what problems occurred with the process.
“I’ve had many scientists look at that approval process and they’ve found many flaws with that decision made by the Department of Natural Resources,” Evers said. “So I would take that information and the approval and say, ‘How can we get from here to here?’”
He added: “I believe we can work with Foxconn to help them understand that air quality is important in southeast Wisconsin and they don’t want to be, as a corporate citizen in this state, the fourth-worst air polluter.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that environmental groups have expressed concern about emissions from the Foxconn plant that could create smog, posing a health threat. It reported the Foxconn facility, if it had been operating in 2016, would have ranked fourth-highest in southeastern Wisconsin for emissions of two leading types of air pollutants, according to DNR data.
A DNR spokesman said in a statement “the agency used the same process for reviewing and issuing the permits as it would for anyone else.”
“No ‘errors’ have been brought to the department’s attention since the permits were issued,” DNR spokesman Jim Dick said.
The Foxconn facility could employ as many as 13,000 when fully operational with thousands more jobs for suppliers and contractors building it. Walker has been the chief architect of the deal, staking his own political future on it, though the public has been split on whether the state subsidies are worth it.
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A Foxconn spokesperson didn’t respond Wednesday to Evers’ comments.
Evers also said Wednesday that in addition to environmental permits, “I think we have some leverage over” the company, including the construction of roads near the Foxconn campus.
$15 wage, but exceptions possible
Evers has campaigned on gradually increasing Wisconsin’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, most recently at an event in Milwaukee Monday with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Speaking Wednesday, Evers said he’s open to a different wage standard for rural areas and teenage workers.
A $15 hourly wage “may not work for Crandon,” Evers said. “Wages are different across the state, so somehow we need to take that into account.”
Evers said he’s open to tying the minimum to wage measures in different regions of the state, but said he isn’t certain how that would be done.
Concerns over plagiarism
Walker and Wisconsin Republicans have hammered Evers for including plagiarized passages in recent state budget proposals offered by his agency.
Evers said Wednesday that Department of Public Instruction staff made the error — he declined to say who — and are receiving training to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
“We talked to those people, they understood they made a mistake,” Evers said.
Walker has said Evers isn’t taking the issue seriously and that schoolchildren who plagiarize would be punished.
“If a student didn’t have the proper citations, I’d say to that student, hey, you forgot the citations. Put ‘em in here,’” Evers said. “I wouldn’t expel them.”
The Walker campaign responded to Evers’ comments with a statement saying: “Evers’ empty promises are worth even less after he stole ideas from an intern and Wikipedia to include in his plagiarized education budgets. Scott Walker got the job done by turning our economy around and bringing Foxconn’s 13,000 good-paying, family-supporting jobs to Wisconsin. That’s the difference between talk and leadership.”