MacIver News Service

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON – Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday pressed the state Senate to “come to their good senses” and pass a pricey incentives package to keep consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark from shutting down its Fox Valley operations and eliminating some 500 jobs. 

“Let’s be clear: there is no long-term solution that will change that, that will protect the jobs at Kimberly-Clark other than the bill that is before (the Senate),” Walker said at a Capitol press conference.

“My hope is the members of the state Senate in both parties, both Democrat and Republican senators, will come to their good senses and find a way to pass legislation to keep the hundreds of exceptionally good-paying jobs at Kimberly-Clark,” the governor said. “If the state fails to act, I believe before the end of this month, those jobs are gone.”

As of Thursday, it didn’t appear the Senate had the votes to approve the pay-to-stay proposal, a $70 million tax incentives package previously backed by the Republican-controlled Assembly.

The legislation is expected to be among a number of bills lawmakers plan to take up in an extraordinary, lame duck session of the Legislature sometime next month. 

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have spoken out against the incentives plan that union and company officials say will allow Kimberly-Clark to keep hundreds of jobs, add another 50, and invest as much as $500 million into its Cold Spring facility Fox Crossing over 15 years. 

“I am not convinced that this is the right thing for the state to do,” said Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) Wednesday during a hearing before the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Conservative organizations, including the MacIver Institute, oppose the legislation.

“The proposed ‘pay-to-stay’ incentives package is a bad idea and it’s poor public policy,” said Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, earlier this week. “It makes no sense to use taxpayer money to convince a company to retain workers when Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remains at an all-time low. While it’s never welcome news when a company announces layoffs, employers across the Badger State are in desperate need of skilled manufacturing workers.”

Will enough Democrats, lobbied by their friends from Big Labor, vote for the Republican incentives package to pass the bill? Like the product produced at the Fox Valley plant, it “Depends.

Walker spoke publicly on a wide ranges of issues for the first time since last week’s election loss to Democrat Tony Evers. He thanked Wisconsin voters for their support over the past eight years, support that secured the Republican governor three victories in eight years – including 2012’s bitter recall election.

While Walker picked up some 30,000 more votes than he did in his 2014 re-election bid, it wasn’t enough to turn back the swell of Democrats in liberal bastions Madison and Milwaukee. Thanks to record-high voter turnout in Madison, Evers, the superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction, beat Walker by a razor-thin margin. 

The election featured the announcement of a flood of last-minute, late-night votes — tens of thousands of them — in Milwaukee County after it was believed all of the precincts had reported. Voter integrity advocates have raised concerns about the state Election Commission allowing the reinstatement of voters previously removed from the rolls because they had failed to update their registration. Local elections officials had complained that more than 30,000 voters may have been wrongly removed. 

Walker said his campaign is satisfied with the final vote, despite the way the vote count played out. 

“As you can imagine, that night, when we were told repeatedly, as you all were in the media, that 100 percent (of the votes) had come in to Milwaukee County,” the governor said, “I think it was a shock to everybody when there were 47,000 more votes that hadn’t been counted.”

In the end, Walker said, the problem in Milwaukee was “more a question of incompetence as opposed to corruption.”

Walker said he believes there has been a misunderstanding about what Republican leadership plans to do in the extraordinary session. He said he doesn’t think the GOP has any intention of taking up the kind of sweeping legislation that Democrats pushed in their lame duck session in December 2010 – costly union contracts that would have hamstrung a new administration and Legislature facing a $3 billion budget shortfall. 

The governor said he has spoken with Foxconn officials and, despite rhetoric from Evers on the campaign trail, Walker sounded confident the $10 billion economic development project will move forward without complication. 

“The bottom line is that Foxconn and the state of Wisconsin have a contract,” he said. “I have every confidence, as I have said repeatedly, that Foxconn is going to meet and exceed the terms of their contract and I would have every expectation the state of Wisconsin would do the same.”

Despite his loss, Walker said the state is in good shape because of the myriad reforms implemented over the past eight years and because of a “strong” Republican majority in the Legislature.

“We’re not going to retreat. The state of Wisconsin is not going to go backwards. We may not go forward as fast as we’d like the next several years, but we’re going to continue to be strong,” the governor said.

M. D. KittleM.D. Kittle is an investigative reporter with the MacIver Institute. Used with permission.