Fate of Kimberly-Clark bill up in the air after special hearing

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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - State lawmakers heard from the union and Kimberly-Clark employees during a hearing on a proposed $100 million tax incentives package to keep the company operating in the Fox Valley.

The Joint Finance Committee listened to testimony Wednesday on Assembly Bill 963: "Relating to: authorizing certain tax benefits for a paper products manufacturer with facilities in the city of Neenah and village of Fox Crossing and making an appropriation."

What's next remains up in the air. The hearing ended without a scheduling of a vote. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he won't call for a vote unless there's bipartisan support, and right now there's no indication of that happening.

State Sen. President Roger Roth (R-Appleton) is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. He's been trying to get other lawmakers behind it.

"We have an opportunity here in the Senate, in extraordinary session, to come in an close the circle, finish the deal and keep this iconic company here in Wisconsin," Roth said.

The United Steelworkers Union made it clear that its members support the legislation.

"Our union does not see this as just another corporate giveaway; instead it sees this as an opportunity to ensure the job security and stability of almost 500 workers," says Michael H. Bolton. "To close the Kimberly Clark facility in Fox Crossing would cause great economic devastation for these hard working employees, their families, as well as the communities in which they live."

Kimberly-Clark announced earlier this year global restructuring plans that include the closure of Neenah Nonwovens, and possible closure of the Cold Spring facility in Fox Crossing.

K-C decided to delay a decision on Cold Spring to give the state time to put together a tax incentives package. After coming to an agreement with the Union in July, K-C agreed that it would be able keep Cold Spring open as long as the bill passed.

The bill passed the Assembly during the last legislative session, but failed to make it to the Senate floor.

Kimberly-Clark's Vice President of Global Manufacturing also testified in support of the bill. John Deitrich said the new union deal and incentives would allow them to keep 388 manufacturing jobs, add 52 new jobs, and invest up to $500 million in the facility over the next 15 years.

The company said the decision on keeping Cold Spring open would be made upon the outcome of the tax incentives bill. If the bill fails to pass, the company could move its operations to Arkansas.

Democratic Sen. John Erpenbach asked Deitrich, "What happens if this bill does not pass? What happens up in the Fox Valley? What happens to the plant, does it close for sure?"

"We need to know the answer around AB963 from the state. We did not ask for incentives. We already made the difficult decision. We already made the difficult decision and communicated to employees that we were going to close. Without AB 963, we're back to that same decision," Deitrich said.

Governor-elect Tony Evers told us Wednesday he feels the issue should have been talked about months ago.

"Isn't just about Kimberly-Clark, it's about the entire paper-making companies in the state of Wisconsin," Evers said, "so we need to have a comprehensive strategy for all our employers and all our unions and all our workers in the state. It just doesn't make sense. We can't be jumping from one company to another, trying to save one company and another will come down the block."

Gov. Walker did not comment on Wednesday's special session.

Kimberly-Clark says it has no plans to close its facility in Marinette.

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