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Report: Walker plans $25M deal with Kimberly-Clark

Posted at 1:03 PM, Dec 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-13 18:20:24-05

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker planned Thursday to announce a $25 million deal with paper-products giant Kimberly-Clark Corp. using a power that his Democratic successor would not have under a bill passed during a lame-duck legislative session last week, according to a published report.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported details of the deal ahead of Walker's official announcement, which is planned for Thursday afternoon outside the plant that employs nearly 400 people. Walker's office did not immediately confirm the report, which was attributed to people familiar with the agreement.

"This deal isn't just about your plant it's about making sure that all the other Kimberly-Clark jobs in the state stay here," said Walker.

Walker's announcement comes after the Legislature failed to pass a larger tax incentive bill worth up to $100 million for the paper-products giant during last week's lame-duck legislative session. Lawmakers passed a bill that would require the Legislature to sign off on the creation of new enterprise zones, the mechanism Walker was to use for the Kimberly-Clark deal, the Journal Sentinel reported.

"There's about 230 different businesses, a lot of them small businesses, that do business with Kimberly-Clark. All those businesses and all those families would have been negatively affected had those jobs gone away from here," said Walker.

"It's about understanding that the real issue here is the numbers. It's about families, it's about the heartbeat not just making a decision in the mind. We had to make the two go together," Walker also said.

Democrats have accused Republicans of a power grab with the lame-duck legislation, which would rein in some of the powers of Gov.-elect Tony Evers as well as the incoming Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul.

Evers renewed his call for Walker to veto the bill, saying in a statement that "the governor of our state shouldn't be hamstrung when it comes to economic development."

Here is Evers' full statement:

"The Republicans' lame-duck session overriding the will of the people would affect the governor's ability to lead on economic development through proposals like the one announced for Kimberly-Clark today. Unfortunately, Republicans played politics with this issue for months, leaving Kimberly-Clark workers and their families in the dark and uncertain about their futures.

I've said all along that we need a long-term, industry-wide solution to the challenges facing the paper industry - the governor of our state shouldn't be hamstrung when it comes to economic development, and that's why I continue to call on Governor Walker to veto the lame-duck legislation."

Walker has signaled general support for the lame-duck bills but has yet to sign them. He said earlier this week he would consider vetoing portions of the measures, without specifying which parts.

Kimberly-Clark was founded nearly 150 years ago in Wisconsin and is now based in Dallas. It was weighing whether to close the Wisconsin plant or one in Conway, Arkansas.

Under the new deal, the $25 million would be paid to Kimberly-Clark over five years, the Journal Sentinel reported. The company would keep the Cold Spring plant open and close one in Arkansas, the newspaper said.

Kimberly-Clark originally asked for resolution by the end of September but agreed to wait to make a final decision about the plant until after the Legislature acted. Republicans failed to muster enough votes in the Senate for the original bill which would have given Kimberly-Clark up to $100 million, which was not voted upon during the lame-duck session last week.

Opponents cast the original measure as a corporate giveaway and said the government shouldn't be picking winners and losers. But supporters said it was worth the cost to save the jobs and increased economic activity that keeping it open would generate.

After the bill died, Walker pledged to reach another deal to save the plant before he leaves office next month. He lost re-election to Evers.

Kimberly-Clark, which makes Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and other paper products, said in January that it planned to close the Fox Crossing and smaller Neenah plants in Wisconsin 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.
The Fox Crossing plant employs about 388 people. Company officials had said they would add about 52 jobs and invest another $500 million over 15 years if the original bill before the Legislature were approved.