A vote to approve an incentive package to keep paper maker Kimberly-Clark from closing plants in the Fox Valley was scheduled for after the Nov. 6 election in an effort to secure votes from senators in both parties, Gov. Scott Walker said Friday.
"It needs bipartisan votes. We didn’t have the votes. That’s not a shocking revelation," Walker told reporters after touring a manufacturing facility in Middleton. "I’ve said it from day one, we need to have Democrat and Republican votes out there."
The governor said he has weekly conversations with Kimberly-Clark officials and union leadership. Through those conversations, he said, it was clear there was interest in helping the company, but not before the election.
"Not one Senate Democrat would go on record saying they would support the bill before the election," Walker said.
Tony Palese, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Walker hasn't spoken with Shilling since July.
"Republican opposition to Kimberly Clark has only intensified as Gov. Walker and Sen. Roth continue to delay action on this bill. Having already cancelled a previously scheduled vote on the Kimberly-Clark Tax Break Bill, Senate President Roth is once again leaving workers in the lurch with no guarantee that a vote will ever be held on this bill," Shilling said in a statement.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Tuesday they will call an extraordinary session starting Nov. 12, with plans for the Senate to vote later in the month on a bill already passed by the Assembly.
The bill would offer up to $100 million in tax incentives to the paper company if Kimberly-Clark does not close both of its Fox Valley plants, which together employ about 600 people. The company is reconsidering closing its Cold Spring plant, located in Fox Crossing, as it awaits action from the Legislature. The Cold Sprint plant employs about 500 people.
Some questions have been raised about the language of the original bill, which refers to both the Neenah and Fox Crossing facilities and includes specific job retention requirements that likely could not be met if the Neenah plant is closed. Vos said earlier this week the bill could be changed with Walker's veto power.
Walker acknowledged some technical fixes might be needed, but said he would not make any changes without agreement from Kimberly-Clark management and union leadership.
Palese, Shilling's spokesman, pointed to comments Walker made last month indicating there would be no changes to the bill, and argued the terms of the deal have changed too many times for lawmakers to know what they're being asked to support.
Walker said he is grateful the company has delayed decisions about closing the plant until after the election, when he believes that, with "both Democrat and Republican senators, there will be enough combined that we’ll be able to pass the bill going forward."
"We just believe that when those jobs are on the line and you get past the election where it isn’t a chess game back and forth as to who can take a political hit at the other, my interest was cutting through all this, saying forget about the politics, these are real people with real lives in real situations, some of whom worked 20 or 30 years at that plant," Walker said.
The Cold Spring plant manufactures Depend adult incontinence products and other hygiene products. Walker said the plant has been the subject of myths that it is part of a dying paper industry.
"This is part of an expanding part of the Kimberly-Clark market. And the reason for that is, good or bad, as we’re all getting older, incontinence, things like Depends that they make there are needed here, across the country and around the world," Walker said.
Because of that, he said, he believes keeping the plant open will eventually lead to more job growth, both for Kimberly-Clark and for its suppliers.
Senators who have come out in opposition to the deal have said they are concerned about the precedent that corporate incentive packages for companies like Foxconn and Kimberly-Clark will set for the state.
"The Foxconn incentive package was an outlier in both scope and future opportunity for our state. A clear, bright line should be drawn between the extraordinary, statewide impacts of Foxconn and future economic development policy," said Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, in a statement.
Shilling said earlier this week that if Republicans "were serious about helping workers in the Fox Valley, they would be having public hearings and votes right now, not after the election."