Gov. Scott Walker says Kimberly-Clark deal will need bipartisan support
MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that it would be easier to reconvene the state Senate after the November election to vote on an incentive package that might keep Kimberly-Clark from shutting down one of two Wisconsin plants, but the Kleenex tissue-maker said it wants action by the end of this month.
Walker told The Associated Press that he’s working hard to reach a deal that could get the necessary Senate votes to pass such a package, but it would need bipartisan support. Republicans have a narrow 18-15 majority, but they don’t have enough support for an incentive package that might save one of the company’s two plans in the Fox Valley.
“We’re working hard on it, we’ll have to see,” Walker said, stressing that he’s talked with both Republican and Democratic leaders about reaching a deal. “If we’re going to get it, that’s going to have to be the way to get it passed, both Democrats and Republicans.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling placed the blame on Republicans, saying they have “shown no appetite to come back in and work out a deal.”
Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark , which makes Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and other paper products said in January that it planned to close the two northeastern Wisconsin plants, costing about 600 jobs. The closings were part of the company’s plan to cut up to 5,500 jobs and close or sell 10 plants worldwide.
Hopes of saving them were rekindled in July after the union representing workers there agreed to concessions. The company said it was open to saving the plants and jobs if the Wisconsin Legislature passed an incentive bill that could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
Kimberly-Clark spokesman Terry Balluck said in an email Wednesday that while conversations with policymakers continue, the company is stressing the importance of identifying a date for when a Senate vote on the incentives could take place.
“This allows us to finalize our project plans and minimize the uncertainty and distractions being felt at our various sites, so our employees can focus on remaining safe and manufacturing quality products,” Balluck said.
Walker said he wants a vote before Kimberly-Clark makes its final decision, but it is “probably easier” if it’s after the November election when he is on the ballot along with 17 members of the Senate.
“They’re the ones that have a timeline,” Walker said of Kimberly-Clark. “Our hopes are whenever that decision’s made we can be in a good position to convince them to stay.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that if the incentive package passes, it would only save the Cold Spring plant in Fox Crossing and its roughly 500 jobs, not the smaller one in Neenah.
Fitzgerald and Walker met with company officials at the Cold Spring plant on Friday.
Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson, a former Democratic state lawmaker, said if Republicans want to get a deal done, they can do it.
“I just can’t believe that they’re playing with the fate and fortunes of the workers here in the Fox Valley,” Nelson said.
The Republican-controlled Assembly passed the incentive proposal in February, but it stalled in the Senate. One Republican, state Sen. Chris Kapenga, said he wouldn’t support the bill, meaning all other Republicans would have to vote for it or convince at least one Democrat to do so.
The bill is modeled after incentives given for Foxconn Technology Group to put a plant in Wisconsin. The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the Kimberly-Clark bill would cost the state $109 million over 15 years, assuming jobs for 610 employees earning more than $70,000 would be retained.