State Senate President Roger Roth said Tuesday he hoped the chamber will reconvene this year to approve state incentives for paper giant Kimberly-Clark, in a bid to save as many as 600 jobs in the Fox Valley.
Kimberly-Clark also signaled a new openness to retaining the jobs if state lawmakers provide the incentives, which are modeled on $3 billion in tax credits given last year to Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group.
In a statement Tuesday, Roth said he will “be working with Majority Leader (Scott) Fitzgerald and members to help get the Senate in a position to come back in and pass this important legislation.”
That raises the prospect of the state Senate reconvening this year. The chamber adjourned this spring, marking what then appeared to be its close of business for 2018.
“From my perspective, we need to come back in as soon as possible,” Roth, R-Appleton, said in an interview. “If we don’t act, jobs will be lost.”
Fitzgerald did not initially commit to reconvening the Senate. In a brief statement, Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he plans to meet next week with GOP senators, Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, and Gov. Scott Walker “to determine the most appropriate and realistic path forward for the Senate.”
In January, Kimberly-Clark appeared set, as part of a global restructuring, to close factories in Neenah and Fox Crossing, causing the loss of about 600 jobs. Both locations are within Roth’s 19th district.
But a potential breakthrough emerged this week: a new agreement ratified by Kimberly-Clark union workers Monday night could lead to saving jobs at the facility, if paired with state tax incentives.
Roth said the new agreement, which reportedly includes worker concessions, “changes the dynamics” around keeping the plants open.
Kimberly-Clark issued a statement saying with the new agreement, it “will 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” is reached with the state’s economic-development agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
The state Assembly in February passed a lucrative tax-incentive deal modeled on one given Foxconn to locate near Racine. It would allow Kimberly-Clark to claim tax credits for eligible payroll costs in exchange for retaining jobs in the state.
The state Senate never enacted the measure, though Fitzgerald said in March the only reason he would call the Senate back into session before the November elections would be to take up an incentive package for Kimberly-Clark.
Roth said Tuesday that passing it through the Senate won’t be easy — adding that it may not be able to pass with support from GOP senators only.
“We’ll need some Democrats to come to the table,” Roth said.
Shilling, in a statement, said Roth and Fitzgerald “already killed this bill once and it doesn’t look like their Republican majority is any closer to getting a deal done this time around.”
Shilling added that “rather than giving tax breaks to corporations that outsource jobs and shut down factories,” state lawmakers should pass a Democratic bill that would create revolving loan funds to aid paper mills in making energy-efficiency upgrades and transitioning to brown paper products.
WEDC Secretary Mark Hogan said in a statement Tuesday that the agreement between Kimberly-Clark and the union for workers at the Wisconsin facilities, United Steelworkers, “would ensure the company’s Cold Spring facility remains in operation.”
“We look forward to working with the company, Gov. Walker and state legislators to find a path forward to secure Kimberly-Clark’s presence in Wisconsin for decades to come,” Hogan said.