Wisconsin panel changes court rules for Foxconn plant

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Foxconn Technology Group could appeal lawsuits directly to the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court, skipping the state appeals court, under changes to a $3 billion incentive package the Legislature's budget-writing committee approved Tuesday.

The unprecedented change to the usual judicial process drew criticism from Democrats, who also blasted the $3 billion incentives as a corporate welfare giveaway. But they didn't have the votes needed to stop the proposal.

The Republican-controlled committee approved the bill on a party line 12-4 vote. The state Senate planned to vote on it Sept. 12, with the Assembly expected to quickly follow. Both are under GOP control.

The Assembly approved it last month, but will have to vote again since the committee changed the measure which amounts to the largest state tax break to a foreign corporation in U.S. history. It must pass both houses of the Legislature in the same form before going to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

Taiwan-based Foxconn signed a deal with Wisconsin to invest up to $10 billion in the state on a massive flat-screen manufacturing campus that could employ up to 13,000 people. The plant is to be built in southeastern Wisconsin and be open as soon as 2020, although Foxconn has not identified its exact location yet.

"This is probably the biggest thing to happen to Wisconsin since the cow," Republican budget committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren said Tuesday.

Proponents say the plant offers a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for the state, while critics say the state is giving away too much with the $3 billion incentive package. The bill also waives environmental regulations that will allow Foxconn to build in wetland and waterways and construct its 20-million-square-foot campus without first doing an environmental impact statement.