Senate Republicans ‘probably don’t’ have votes yet to pass Kimberly-Clark bill

The co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee says Senate Republicans "probably don't" have the votes right now to pass an incentive package to encourage Kimberly-Clark to keep jobs in Wisconsin.

But Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said yesterday the content of the final package was in the "process of being determined."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, however, cast doubt his chamber would come back to vote on any changes to the package with Foxconn-like incentives for the papermaker.

He also suggested the guv could use his partial veto authority to make changes to the legislation to match a concessions deal the union worked out with Kimberly-Clark in a bid to keep a Fox Valley plant open. But he didn't provide any details.

The Senate GOP caucused last week on the Kimberly-Clark package with Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, saying afterward talks would continue.

Darling said at a panel discussion during WMC's Policy Day 2018 yesterday that she wanted to do whatever she could to keep the Kimberly-Clark jobs in Wisconsin and help the company grow.

"If we had to go to the floor today and vote, I don't think there would be the votes," Darling said. "But I'm not saying there won't be. I think people want to do what's right for Kimberly-Clark. They want to do what's right for our state and for our taxpayer."

Already, Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, has said he won't support the package, which is being pushed by GOP Sen. Roger Roth, who is up for re-election and whose Appleton-area district includes the plant.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Republicans, who have an 18-15 majority, don't have a lot of wiggle room with Kapenga already opposed to the legislation. But she said Fitzgerald has yet to contact her about the bill. She pushed a loan fund for the paper industry that's supported by Dems as an alternative to the bill that cleared the Assembly. She also said Senate Dems could be willing to work with majority Republicans on the bill, like they did with the package to help the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks to build a new arena, but they have to be part of the process.

"You can't meet and marry us on the same day," Shilling said. "We want to be wooed. We want to be dated. We want to be part of the discussion."

Vos said he hasn't ruled out the Senate passing the bill that already cleared the Assembly.

"I'm optimistic the Senate will eventually come to say we can't let Kimberly-Clark leave," he said. "If for some reason they do, I think that would be a shame."

The bill the Assembly approved in February would increase tax credits for job retention to 17 percent for the paper manufacturer's payroll, up from the current 7 percent. Under the bill, Kimberly-Clark would also get refundable tax credits for 15 percent of capital expenditures -- up from the standard 10 percent -- over a five-year period, as well as a five-year sales tax exemption on those capital expenditures.

Late last month, the company said it had reached a concession package the its union at the Cold Spring plant that, combined with state incentives, could keep the facility open. It employs about 450 people.

A Walker spokeswoman said the governor and his staff are "working with WEDC and the Legislature to keep hundreds of family supporting jobs in Wisconsin." But she didn't address possible changes Walker may have been asked to make to the bill during those discussions.

Kimberly-Clark announced in January that two Wisconsin plants were slated to close as part of a global restructuring. Since then, it also has informed Arkansas officials that a plant there producing products similar to the Cold Spring facility may close. The head of Arkansas' economic development agency told last week the state incentive package was "unprecedented" for jobs that already exist.

During yesterday's panel discussion, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Walker originally proposed the package without adequate homework. He said the company no longer has a tax bill to the state, meaning the credits would end up subsidizing the company's payroll.

"He got caught with no plan, rattled something off and now we're looking at $100 million to keep jobs that we already have that could be all gone in five years to a company that pays no taxes in Wisconsin and just got a massive tax break at the national level and who has record profits," Hintz said.

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