Roth aims for quick vote in Senate on Kimberly-Clark tax incentive package

GOP Sen. Roger Roth is pushing for a quick Senate vote on a tax incentive package for Kimberly-Clark after the company indicated it was open to accepting state help to keep open a Fox Valley factory.

The Appleton Republican also said he will need GOP and Dem votes to pass the Foxconn-style incentives in the Senate. But Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, were noncommittal yesterday after the company announced it had reached a deal with a union that, paired with the tax breaks, could help keep the plant open.

Fitzgerald’s office said the leader would speak next week with his caucus, Shilling and Gov. Scott Walker to “determine the most appropriate and realistic path forward” on the package.

Shilling, meanwhile, knocked Fitzgerald and Roth for already killing “this bill once and it doesn’t look like their Republican majority is any closer to getting a deal done this time around.”

The Assembly approved the package in February, but the Senate did not bring it to the floor before the session ended. Shilling’s office said she was in the process of talking to members about the legislation. She also expressed a preference for legislation Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rep. Amanda Stuck, D-Appleton, wrote to pump state money into programs that would help papermakers retrofit mills to make more desirable paper grades and complete energy efficiency projects.

“Democrats remain committed to protecting jobs, supporting workers and partnering with businesses to remain competitive,” Shilling said.

Kimberly-Clark, which earlier this year announced plans to close two plants in the Neenah area, said the tax package could help keep one of them open.

The United Steelworkers local approved a tentative agreement that the company said allows it to “advise the State of Wisconsin that it is now in a position to commit to using the incentives if the proposed legislation is passed and an agreement with WEDC is reached.”

The company said it will continue to engage the union.

“These incentives, together with the new agreement, allow the company to better meet some of the challenging objectives of our global restructuring program,” the company said, adding it will not comment further on the tentative agreement or a final decision regarding the Neenah plant “until it is appropriate to do so.”

WEDC CEO and Secretary Mark Hogan said the agency has had productive talks with Kimberly-Clark since February on the tax incentives.

“We look forward to working with the company, Governor Walker and state legislators to find a path forward to secure Kimberly-Clark’s presence in Wisconsin for decades to come,” he said.

The Cold Spring plant in Fox Crossing, which makes personal care products, employs about 450 workers. A company spokesman said in regards to the other plant that was slated to close, the Neenah Nonwovens facility, “we continue to work with leadership and the employees there on finalizing this closure.”

Before the Senate adjourned, there were questions over how the GOP’s conservative wing in the chamber would react to the bill amid concerns it was establishing a precedent of government help for companies looking to cut jobs.

The bill the Assembly approved in February would increase tax credits for job retention to 17 percent for the paper manufacturer’s payroll, up from the current 7 percent. Under the bill, Kimberly-Clark would also get refundable tax credits for 15 percent of capital expenditures — up from the standard 10 percent — over a five-year period, as well as a five-year sales tax exemption on those capital expenditures.

It cleared the Assembly 56-37 with all Dems but one opposed to the bill and four Republicans voting against it.

Roth told WisPolitics he can’t recall a tax incentive package being passed without bipartisan support, and called on Democrats to get behind the effort.

He said preserving “high-paying union jobs” is the responsibility of both parties.

“It’s important that this is a bipartisan deal, that the Legislature comes together,” he said.