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Wisconsin legislature to return for Kimberly-Clark

Posted: 11:09 AM, Oct 02, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-02 16:09:10Z

The Wisconsin Legislature plans to return the week after the November election for a lame duck session to vote on a $100 million tax incentive bill that would keep paper products maker Kimberly-Clark from shuttering a plant that employs about 500 people.

The company wanted the Legislature to pass the proposal by the end of September, but said Tuesday it will wait until after lawmakers meet before deciding what to do about the Fox Crossing plant.

Company spokeswoman Brook Smith said discussions with Gov. Scott Walker and members of the Legislature are “productive” but that Kimberly-Clark remains “eager to firm up our plans and minimize the uncertainty being felt by our employees.”

Senate Republicans didn’t have enough votes to pass the bill by the earlier Sept. 30 deadline. The announcement Tuesday that lawmakers will return on Nov. 12 to consider the incentive package — modeled after tax breaks given to Foxconn Technology Group — keeps hope alive that a deal can be reached.

But there are no guarantees.

Walker called the Legislature’s decision to return to consider the measure a “major step forward in archiving our goal.” Neither he nor Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said they have the votes to pass it.

“My message to Kimberly-Clark employees is simple: ‘We are fighting for you,’” Walker, who is up for re-election in November, said in a statement. “We are working together to keep your jobs in Wisconsin.”

Fitzgerald said there will be a public hearing on the bill and “an eventual vote” in the Senate later in November.

Republicans have a slim 18-15 majority in the Senate, but two of them have already publicly said they oppose the bill. That leaves Republicans at least one vote short.

Setting the session for after the election could relieve pressure on some senators. Walker has said it would be easier to take up the proposal after the election. One of the three seats Democrats are targeting in the election is held by Republican Senate President Roger Roth, whose district includes the plants.

Taking up the measure after the election also sets up a lame duck session for the current Legislature and Walker, giving them another chance to enact laws before whoever wins in November takes over next year. Fitzgerald’s spokesman Dan Romportl tried to dampen any talk of that, saying the Kimberly-Clark bill would be the only bill considered.

Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark , which makes Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and other paper products, said in January that it planned to close 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. Fitzgerald said the company would keep the Fox Crossing plant open if the incentive deal passes, saving 500 jobs. A smaller plant in Neenah that employs about 110 people would still close.

The Assembly passed the bill earlier this year. 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.

If only one plant were kept open, with 500 jobs, the cost to the state would be less.