MADISON, Wis. – President Donald Trump casually mentioned Tuesday that Foxconn's chairman told him in confidence the electronics giant's investment could reach $30 billion, triple the size of last week's deal with Wisconsin that some already viewed as optimistically inflated.
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Trump made the comments while addressing small-business leaders at the White House. He didn't elaborate on how the figure could grow so high or even clarify whether he was referring to just Wisconsin or nationwide — including investments in other plants not yet announced.
"They're going to spend $10 billion, but he is one of the great businessmen of our time," Trump said in reference to Foxconn CEO Terry Gou. "And I think the number is going to be $30 billion. He told me off the record he thinks he may go $30 billion, $30 billion. Think of this. He may go 30 billion dollar investment, but he told me that off the record so I promised I wouldn't tell anyone."
Foxconn officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
This is the second time in a week that Trump has made public conversations he says he had in private with business leaders. Last week Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Apple CEO Tim Cook told him he was committed to building three big manufacturing facilities in the U.S., plans Apple has not confirmed.
The deal Gov. Scott Walker and Foxconn signed on Thursday called for the Taiwanese company to invest $10 billion in Wisconsin and initially employ 3,000 people by 2020, with up to 13,000 within six years. Even at a third of the size Trump said could be spent, the envisioned plant project would be the largest in state history and result in a 20 million-square-foot campus.
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Critics of the deal have questioned whether Foxconn would come close to even those lofty investment and employment targets, noting that it's promised to build other plants in the U.S. around the world and not followed through.
Also Tuesday, Wisconsin state lawmakers wrestled with how quickly to proceed on a $3 billion tax incentive package to land the massive plant. Assembly Republicans scheduled a public hearing on Thursday with a vote in a couple weeks. But Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he wanted to first pass the state's month-late budget, then take up Foxconn later this month.
Walker, after meeting with Senate Republicans, said there is a "potential for a few tweaks here and there but I don't think there will be major changes" to the proposal. He also said it was reasonable for lawmakers to sign off on the deal in a couple weeks. The agreement calls for Wisconsin to finalize the deal by the end of September.
But Democrats, and even some Republicans, said they needed more time to understand the ramifications of the $3 billion incentive package. The refundable tax credits being offered to Foxconn are tied to the company meeting investment and employment targets, but an analysis of the bill's effects has not been completed by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
There was also news Tuesday that state taxpayers could be on the hook for up to 40 percent of costs incurred by local governments for the project if it falls through.
Democratic Rep. Gordon Hintz, a member of the Legislature's budget committee, said he had too many unanswered questions to support the bill at this point.
"How is it supposed to be transparent and open if it is being rushed through in two weeks?" Hintz said.
Walker also said that at least one other state vying for the project offered Foxconn even more money, but "it wasn't a huge gap." He didn't indicate which state or states topped the offer or signal how he learned about it.
Foxconn also considered sites in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. The company said in a press release last week when it announced that Wisconsin had been selected that it was the first of several expected investments in the country.
Foxconn is expected to produce liquid-crystal display panels that are used in televisions and computer screens. The plant would open in 2020.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond and Ivan Moreno contributed to this report. Moreno reported from Milwaukee.