Kimberly-Clark says it will wait until after extraordinary session to decide Fox Valley plant’s fate

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Kimberly-Clark, which previously said it wanted lawmakers to act on an incentive package by Sept. 30, now says it will wait to see the results of an extraordinary session next month before making any decisions on closing a plant in the Fox Valley.

But it remained unclear if Senate Republicans would be able to muster the 17 votes needed for the bill, and Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, questioned why Republicans were waiting to convene until after the November election if they were truly serious about saving jobs.

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters after a WisPolitics.com luncheon Tuesday that he’d be open to taking up other bills next month after the extraordinary session convenes.

Tuesday’s announcement of a Nov. 12 extraordinary session for a public hearing with a Senate vote later next month comes after package backers had asked the company to wait until after Nov. 6 to see if the Legislature could pass the bill, arguing the dynamics could be different once the elections are over.

“While we remain eager to firm up our plans and minimize the uncertainty being felt by our employees, we will not make any final decisions regarding the Neenah Cold Spring Facility until the Legislature completes its extraordinary session,” a Kimberly-Clark spokesman wrote in an email.

With two GOP members already publicly opposed to the bill, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, would need every remaining Republican in his caucus and at least one Dem vote to pass it.

A Fitzgerald spokesman declined to give a hard count on the number of GOP votes Fitzgerald has. And a Shilling spokesman said neither the majority leader nor Republican Sen. Roger Roth, one of the package’s main backers, has asked the minority leader for Dems votes.

“Sen. Roth already killed the Kimberly-Clark bill once,” Shilling said in a statement. “This latest delay tactic proves he’s more focused on protecting his own job than the workers he is supposed to be representing.”

Roth, however, called the development “great news.” Gov. Scott Walker tweeted this afternoon one has to be “cynically political to not think that’s a good thing” that talks with company, union and government officials have created an opportunity to save jobs.

“You’re either for jobs in Wisconsin or you’re not — and now Democrats and members of the Senate have to tell us where they stand,” Walker tweeted. “We ended the political games today and began the process of saving real jobs for hard-working families.”

Britt Cudaback, a spokeswoman for Dem guv candidate Tony Evers, was noncommittal on the bill, saying the workers and their families deserved a “bipartisan solution months ago,” but Walker and Republicans are playing politics.

“We need a long-term, bipartisan and industry-wide solution to the challenges facing the paper industry, not last-minute political gamesmanship,” she said.

GOP Sens. Chris Kapenga, of Delafield, and Steve Nass, of Whitewater, have already registered their opposition, and few of the Republican senators have openly expressed support for the bill. Sen. Duey Stroebel’s office said Tuesday the Saukville Republican had no comment, while a spokesman for Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he had productive conservations with Roth and the company, but was noncommittal.

WisPolitics.com messages left with other GOP senators were not returned.

Kimberly-Clark in January announced plans to close two Wisconsin plants: the Neenah Cold Spring facility that makes Depend and other hygiene products; and the Neenah Nonwovens plant.

The bill the Assembly passed was written in an attempt to keep both plants open. It included a boost in tax credits for job retention to 17 percent, up from the current 7 percent. Kimberly-Clark would also get refundable tax credits for 15 percent of capital expenditures, up from the typical 10 percent, over a five-year period. The company would also get a five-year sales tax exemption on those expenditures.

But the state effort is now focused on the Cold Spring plant with the tax incentives intended to be paired with concessions from the union.

Some have questioned if the bill would have to be amended with that change. But a Fitzgerald spokesman said one option would be to have the guv veto the reference to the second plant. The spokesman added it was not yet clear if that would suffice or be needed with the possibility the bill may have to be amended.

The Fitzgerald spokesman said the Joint Finance Committee is expected to convene for the public hearing on the bill next month. But if committee members were unavailable, the legislation could go to a standing committee instead.

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