Eminent Domain Abuse: WI Politicians Want to Take Farmers' Land for Big Corp - with Trump's Blessing

P. Gardner Goldsmith | June 18, 2018
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Zach Weismueller and the gang at Reason recently produced a stinging brief documentary on how the town of Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and even President Trump are all behind a move to take thousands of acres of private land from owners via eminent domain and hand it to an international corporation that makes iPhone and iPad screens.

You read that correctly. All of these forces are arrayed to not only make sure innocent farmers lose their property to the government, but also that the land be given to a big-money special interest, a Taiwanese corporation called Foxconn that is already getting billions of dollars in state subsidies.

As Bruce Murphy writes for UrbanMilwaukee.com, the state continues to claim that Foxconn is investing “$10 billion” in its vast plant that will supposedly employ 13,000 people and bring in $7 billion in annual revenues – revenues the politicians of the state want, because, of course, they are blatant economic succubi.

But, in fact, the corporation is not investing $10 billion -- it is investing $9 billion, and getting nearly $4.5 billion in subsidies and special tax breaks.

Writes Mr. Murphy:

When the state deal with Taiwanese company Foxconn was first announced, the numbers were bold and clear: the company would get $3 billion in subsidies from the state and in turn would build a $10 billion plant and create 13,000 jobs. That stood not just as the largest subsidy in state history, but the largest government subsidy to a foreign company in American history.

Of course, as all “public private partnerships” (also known as cronyism) go, this was just the beginning of the special government gifts.

But the giveaway has continued to grow, while Foxconn’s required investment has shrunk. After legislation was passed approving the deal without determining the specifics, the Wisconsin Economic Development Agency hammered out the details that dropped Foxconn’s required investment in its new plant to just $9 billion. The Journal Sentinel has reported this, yet its stories keep referring to the $10 billion plant.

But what’s a billion bucks to politicians? Chump change, baby.

And the state government website continues to mislead readers with the faulty numbers, even as more state and local government subsidies and favors are piling up:

Meanwhile the Village of Mount Pleasant and Racine County agreed to give Foxconn $764 million in tax incentives. The measure also commits the state to paying 40 percent of local governments’ expenses for the plant “if ever called upon to do so.” The state will also spend $30 million on a new two-mile road east of I-94 to be called “Wisconn Valley Way,” and aimed at easing traffic congestion near Foxconn’s plant.

How many of us could call on the taxpayers to be forced by government to hand us cash “if ever called upon to do so”?

But it gets worse. As Mr. Murphy notes:

And last week we learned the Walker administration will also siphon $134 million from the state transportation fund to widen and improve several local roads near the future Foxconn factory, as a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau disclosed.

Additionally, the state is slated to push forward its expansion of I-94 in the region, and has applied for $240 million in unconstitutional fed “funds” to “help.”

Add another $6.9 million in a state ad campaign that Gov. Walker’s pledged to attract people to the Foxconn plant, and you have a towering edifice of government cronyism the likes of which is rarely seen.

And it’s all going to be built on private land the town is ready to take through eminent domain, even using excuses of “blight” to justify the unethical attack on innocent people. As Weismueller’s short film explains, Kim and Jim Mahoney are just two of the many people who will be plucked away from their own land so that the government can hand it to Foxconn and receive bigger tax payoffs.

The Mahoneys, and all the owners in the area, are willing to sell their land to Foxconn at prices they determine as acceptable, but they refuse to be driven away via eminent domain.

And they were supposed to be protected by a Wisconsin law stopping eminent domain for the purpose of handing land over to other private interests. That law was passed in the wake of the infamous 2005 Supreme Court ruling in the Kelo case, involving the attempt by New London, Connecticut to take the land of homeowners, including the plaintiff, Susette Kelo, via eminent domain, and hand it to big corporation, Pfizer. The majority on the court, thanks to a swing vote by George HW Bush appointee David Souter, decided that such a move was perfectly fine.

Thirteen years later, the land in New London stands empty and derelict.

Eighteen family homes remain standing in the targeted Foxconn area, and seven of the owners are now embroiled in a federal lawsuit against Mt. Pleasant, which recently changed its zoning to allow skirting of the post-Kelo law and categorize some of the homes as “blighted” for not conforming to the new codes. This could facilitate seizure condemnation of the land and eminent domain seizure.

Incredible. But, lest one think that this is merely off-putting because of its twisted post-Kelo use of the government power to employ eminent domain for corporations, one might want to consider the larger picture for eminent domain, and what it tells us about the supposed rational of government.

The entire concept of eminent domain is a microcosm of the falsity of the supposed justification for the polis, i.e. government. Supposedly, government is instituted to protect you and your property from harm and theft. Yet the only way it can exist is by taking your money, which is your property, and claiming the power to take your property if you don’t pay, or to take your property via eminent domain should the politicians wave their magic wands in your direction.

Now, we get it. This is not in any way a form of “protection”. It is gangsterism. The Mt. Pleasant situation is merely one of the most recognizable examples of this reality.

It is troubling and angering. And it is educational. Government is not your friend. It was never designed to be.

Just ask the folks in Mt. Pleasant.

(Cover Photo: Paul Sableman)