MADISON, Wis. – A pay-to-stay incentives proposal for consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark remains in play and, consequently, so does the possibility that lawmakers will be called back in for a special session.
Gov. Scott Walker said as much Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.
“We’ve continued to have, through Mark Hogan and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., they continue to have discussions with (the company),” the Republican governor said, referring to WEDC secretary and CEO Hogan. “…We’ve put our best foot forward for a major industry in the state. We’ve made an offer that was comparable with what was put up to attract a major industry, obviously Foxconn.”
Walker said the state’s stance remains the same, that the ball is in Kimberly-Clark’s court.
“The key has been, ‘Come to us when you’re willing to tell us whether or not this would be the difference maker and at that point we would be more than willing to find a way to call back in the Legislature, specifically the Senate, to act on the initiative we put on the table,” the governor said.
State Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton), on Tuesday told the Appleton Post Crescent he would lobby for an extraordinary session.
“I want to do everything I can to save these 600 jobs and the 2,000 people they support,” said Roth, Senate president and co-author of a generous incentives package aimed at keeping Kimberly-Clark from shuttering plants in Fox Crossing and Neenah.
The Republican bill gives Kimberly-Clark the same tax credit deal as the one offered to electronics manufacturer Foxconn.
Free-market conservatives, including the MacIver Institute, have raised concerns that the Kimberly-Clark bailout is bad economics and that it sets a troubling and unsustainable precedent for economic development in Wisconsin.
“Conservatives should be very skeptical of the deal,” wrote MacIver, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, the Badger Institute, and FreedomWorks in a February op-ed.
In January, Kimberly-Clark closed a second straight year of slowing sales growth. The company announced plans to cut 15 percent of its global workforce. Its restructuring plan would result in the loss of up to 5,500 jobs nationally and the closing of 10 of its 91 manufacturing facilities – including the Neenah Nonwovens facility and the Cold Spring plant in Fox Crossing.
Big labor is pushing for the state incentives package, demanding that the Senate quickly vote to approve it.
“It’s time that these politicians remember that they represent the citizens of Wisconsin, not multi-billion-dollar corporations,” Michael Bolton, director of United Steelworkers District 2, said in a statement.
The Steelworkers, which has dumped millions of dollars into Democratic Party candidates and liberal causes, seemed to be more interested in stoking the fires of political discord, dismissing the fact that it has been Walker and legislative Republicans who have led the incentives effort.
The union boss criticized the GOP-controlled Senate for “refusing to conduct a vote until the company approves the package and after they have used their Republican allies to help extract concessions from workers.”
Walker reiterated that Republicans are willing to get an incentives deal done if the company says those subsidies would be meaningful in keeping the Fox Cities factories open.
“We haven’t heard about a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’ We just heard people that said they were interested and wanted to know what our approach would be should they come to us with a proposal or a willingness to accept our offer,” the governor said. “But so far they haven’t given us a concrete answer one way or the other.”
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) did not return a call seeking comment.
Kimberly-Clark and the union have been engaged in contract negotiations. Company spokeswoman Andrea Hopkins did not return a request for comment Wednesday. She earlier told the Post Crescent that with contract talks ongoing, the company is “committed to following this important process.”
“We will not comment on any information until final decisions are made by the company and after appropriate consultation with the union,” she told the newspaper.