MADISON, WI — A Republican state lawmaker said Wednesday he won't support a tax break bill to help keep a pair of Kimberly-Clark Corp. plants in Wisconsin open, a blow to hopes that the state Senate would quickly pass the bill to save more than 600 jobs.
State Sen. Chris Kapenga's announcement shows how difficult it will be for Republicans to pass the bill required to keep at least two of the consumer product's giant's plants open in northeast Wisconsin. Republicans hold an 18-15 majority in the Senate. Without Kapenga, all remaining Republicans would have to vote for the bill or a Democrat would have to flip.
Kimberly-Clark said earlier this year it would close two plants in Wisconsin and eliminate 610 jobs. The state Assembly passed a tax incentive bill designed to keep the company in the state, but the Senate never voted on it before adjourning for the year.
But after the United Steelworkers Local 2-482 ratified a new labor agreement Monday night with concessions, Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark said it was open to committing to the incentives under the bill to save the plants.
The bill is modeled after incentives given for Foxconn Technology Group to put a plant in Wisconsin. The state's nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the Kimberly-Clark bill would cost the state $109 million over 15 years, assuming jobs for 610 employees earning more than $70,000 would be retained.
Kapenga, of Delafield, said he saw the Foxconn plant as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" and "not a template to provide extra benefits to any company who asks."
"This is a precedent that we should not set," Kapenga said in a statement. "Wisconsin has robust existing programs to promote economic development and job retention that Kimberly-Clark can attempt to utilize, just as any other company can."
Kapenga said it was "not the role of government to put taxpayer dollars at risk in the middle of disputes between businesses and unions."
Kapenga's statement came a day after Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he planned to speak next week with Republican senators about the bill. Fitzgerald spokesman Dan Romportl had no comment Wednesday.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is up for re-election in November, said Tuesday he looked forward to working with lawmakers on the issue.
But Democratic Sen. Jennifer Shilling said she didn't think Republicans had the votes to pass it.
Kimberly-Clark makes Kleenex tissue, Huggies diapers and other paper products. The Wisconsin facilities in question are the Neenah Nonwovens factory in Neenah and the Cold Spring plant in nearby Fox Crossing.