MADISON — Wisconsin senators have received the call to help vote on legislation for Kimberly-Clark, but state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, and state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, have concerns about the legislation.
Gov. Scott Walker sent a letter to the state senators asking them to come back to Madison before Sept. 30 to pass a tax incentive bill to keep two Kimberly-Clark paper plants open in the Fox River Valley, “so it could finalize its plans in Wisconsin and provide certainty to employees.”
Assembly Bill 963, which passed 56-37 on a near party-line vote last session, would provide about $100 million in tax credits to Kimberly-Clark, which previously planned on closing some of its operations.
In the letter, Walker said the bill “provides tax credits of up to 17 percent of qualifying wages for job retention and up to 15 percent for plant upgrades.”
“The company must retain at least 93 percent of its full-time employees at the Cold Spring facility to be eligible for the tax credits,” Walker wrote. “And there are clawback provisions included in the bill to protect taxpayers.”
Amy Hasenberg, press secretary for Walker, said the governor is encouraging state senators “on both sides of the aisle to tour Kimberly-Clark’s facility and see the importance this business has to our state, our families and our economy first-hand.”
Hasenberg added the administration will “remain hopeful that state senators will come together to keep these family-supporting jobs here in Wisconsin.”
Senators weigh in
Wirch, D-Somers, said he supports a proposal from state Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, that would provide “low-cost loans” to Kimberly-Clark.
“At this time I would prefer that alternative,” Wirch said. “The taxpayers have a chance to get their money back. They can help the company and still get their money back. Instead of an outright payout to Kimberly Clark.”
Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he wants to know more about the legislation before voting on it and he’s doubtful it can be passed by Walker’s Sept. 30 deadline.
“I don’t know that they could call a special session and get everybody back to the table (in time for a vote),” Wanggaard said. “In order to do something like that, both sides of the aisle would have to sit down and agree to this, and you’re not going to get this done in just a couple weeks. And I think that’s going to take a little bit of time to flush that out.”
Wanggaard also had doubts if legislation is the right route to help Kimberly-Clark.
“I honestly don’t know what they’ve even settled on to what they think might help the company continue to be viable and stay here,” Wanggaard said. “It’s pretty hard for me to say ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to go along with this and this is a really good idea,’ until we see what they’re actually offering.”
Wanggaard said he would like to see legislation that would help not only Kimberly-Clark, but other businesses in the state as well.
Not like Foxconn
After the Legislature passed the nearly $3 billion tax incentives package to attract the Foxconn Technology Group to Mount Pleasant, elected officials have received some push to give Wisconsin-based companies similar deals.
Wanggaard, who voted in favor of the Foxconn tax package, said that criticism is not equal as Foxconn was not an established company and has brought a new industry to the state along with creating thousands more jobs than Kimberly-Clark.
“We didn’t give (Foxconn) anything ... they have to do that investment to begin with and put that money in before they get anything back,” Wanggaard said. “We have created opportunity by bringing Foxconn here.”
Beyond technology, Wanggaard said Foxconn is “an ecosystem that is building upon anything and everything that they can help build a positive influence on,” including health science and other fields.
“I’m not belittling Kimberly-Clark, but that’s a different situation,” Wanggaard said. “That’s a specific individual company that’s been here and they’ve made choices, whatever those choices are, plus or minus, it’s gotten them to where they’re at now.”
Wirch, who also voted in favor of the Foxconn tax package, said the state has a structural deficit and officials need to be aware of tax-incentive deals it makes with businesses.
“We have to be careful,” Wirch said. “I voted for Foxconn because it’s going to bring forth family-supporting jobs, and I think we have to be very careful in the future. We cannot do that same deal for every company in the state.”
Wirch said there have not been any caucuses on this bill and the Senate is early in the negotiation process.
“There’s a delicate balance between pushing economic development and protecting the taxpayer,” Wirch said.