Supporters get chance to make case for Kimberly-Clark bill

MADISON, Wis. -- Supporters of a $100 million incentive bill designed to keep a Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant in northeastern Wisconsin open and save about 400 jobs have what may be their final chance Wednesday to make their case.

The Legislature's budget committee held a hearing on the measure, which remains stalled in the state Senate even as the paper products giant founded nearly 150 years ago in Wisconsin is urging lawmakers to act. Kimberly-Clark originally asked for resolution by the end of September but agreed to wait to make a final decision about the plant until the Legislature acts at the urging of Gov. Scott Walker and others.

The GOP-controlled Assembly passed the bill earlier this year, but it has stalled in the Senate because it doesn't have enough Republican votes to pass. Republicans hold an 18-15 majority in that chamber, but three senators are publicly opposed. That means at least two Democrats would have to break ranks to vote for it.

Democrats have not indicated support, while conservative groups including the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the MacIver Institute, the Badger Institute, and FreedomWorks are united against it, calling the plan an unnecessary corporate giveaway.

The incentives are modeled after the $3 billion package passed for Foxconn Technology Group, which is building a display screen manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the current bill would cost the state $109 million over 15 years, assuming jobs for 610 employees at both plants earning more than $70,000 would be retained. If only one plant were kept open, with about 400 jobs, the cost to the state would be less.

The bill would extend company state tax credits for 17 percent of certain payroll costs and 15 percent of capital investment in exchange for retaining jobs. It would essentially go to Kimberly-Clark as a cash payment since its corporate income tax liability has been all-but eliminated thanks to Wisconsin's manufacturing and agriculture credit.

Walker backs the plan as a way to save the jobs for the Cold Spring plant in Fox Crossing that is the only one in North America that makes Depend adult incontinence products. Kimberly-Clark was weighing whether to close either the Wisconsin plant or one in Arkansas that makes similar products.

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers has been skeptical about the proposal but hasn't taken a firm position. His spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, didn't immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said last week that if there were enough votes to pass the bill, the Senate would take it up at the end of November. No committee vote was planned after Wednesday's hearing, leaving the bill's fate still uncertain.

Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark, which makes Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and other paper products, said in January that it planned to close both the Fox Crossing and smaller Neenah plant that employs about 110 people as part of the company's plan to cut up to 5,500 jobs and close or sell 10 plants worldwide. Its North American consumer business is headquartered in Neenah, Wisconsin, where the company was founded in 1872. Wisconsin is home to about 3,000 Kimberly-Clark employees.

Hopes of saving the Wisconsin plant were rekindled in July after the union representing workers there agreed to concessions. Kimberly-Clark still plans to close the smaller Neenah plant, but the incentive bill was designed to save the larger Fox Crossing facility.

The Fox Crossing plant employs about 388 people, but Kimberly-Clark vice president John Deitrich said in testimony Wednesday that it would increase by 52 jobs and invest another $500 million in the facility over the next 15 years if the bill passes.

NW News on 11/15/2018

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