Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday that he granted Kimberly-Clark $28 million over the next 5 years to keep a plant in Neenah, Wis., open and save nearly 400 jobs.
The move comes after the Legislature refused to take up the original incentives packages which was four times as large as this new deal. But Walker has been determined to make a deal with paper company Kimberly-Clark.
“Quite literally, if it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to find a way. I’m going to save the jobs at Kimberly-Clark,” Walker said.
He made those comments earlier this week in Pewaukee, where he expressed his disappointment that the Legislature did not take up the issue in the lame duck session last week.
Instead, Republican lawmakers approved a package of bills limiting the power of Walker's Democratic successor, Tony Evers.
“My priority is on Kimberly-Clark. It’s why I asked the Legislature to go into a special session in the first place. It’s frustrated me they didn’t give me the tools we needed then,” Walker said.
The $28 million in tax incentives is meant to ensure Kimberly-Clark continues operations at its Cold Spring facility in Neenah. Under the deal, the company will have to retain 388 jobs with an annual payroll of over $30 million. Walker says Kimberly-Clark will also invest up to $200 million at the plant over the next five years.
Walker says the deal is important for the whole community. And a Kimberly-Clark spokesperson says the tax breaks allow the company to keep the Neenah plant open.
However, critics of the plan say the deal is setting an unhealthy precedent.
“Kimberly-Clark is not a failing company. It is a successful company. We don’t want them to do that. But we don’t bribe them to stay,” said state Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland).
Bewley fears the state has opened the floodgates for big business incentives after approving a record setting deal for Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn last year.
“If you connect the dots with what we’ve been doing in Wisconsin, from Foxconn to KC to the next thing, ... we are seeing a possibility of a very bad kind of expectation of what the state of Wisconsin is going to do for business,” she said.
State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said, “It’s like walking into a room with a bunch of 8-year-olds and giving one of them a root beer float. And then saying, ‘Sorry, no one gets one unless you ask for it.’ Pretty soon you’re going to have to hand these things out left and right.”
Walker was able to facilitate the Kimberly-Clark deal without lawmakers by going directly to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The fact that Walker struck the deal without weigh-in from legislators troubles state Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee).
“There is no public input. I mean it is tens of millions of dollars that are going out the door. Without a lot of oversight and knowing the details,” he said.
Carpenter, a former member of WEDC, says it’s ironic that Walker used a tool that Republican lawmakers used to try to strip from his successor Evers. The GOP lame duck bill package seeks to limit Evers' role in WEDC until next September.
“Having him within a day or two sign all of these bills that weaken the power of a future governor — it just doesn’t make any sense to me.
Since this post originally published, Walker has signed lame-duck bills limiting the powers of his Democratic successor.