A source tells Media Trackers that at least five state Senate Democrats will have to vote for a bill that would give tens of millions of dollars in incentives to keep Kimberly Clark’s Cold Spring facility open, if it is to pass the legislature. As a public hearing was to get underway Wednesday, the source, who is familiar with the positions of Republican senators on the bill said it was likely that at least six, and perhaps more, could be expected to vote no when the proposal comes up for a vote. That would mean at least five Democrats would have to vote for the proposal to get the 17 votes needed to pass.
The source said the odds were 50/50 that the needed Democratic yes votes would be cast. Those are the same odds co-author of the bill, Republican Representative Mike Rohrkaste of Neenah gave to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The source told Media Trackers: “It’s hard to imagine them (Democrats) walking away from union jobs, but with the toxic political climate, it’s hard to say.” In other words, the source is suggesting that Democrats might put a higher premium on depriving Republicans of a legislative win then on preserving the Kimberly-Clark jobs. Our source said that watching what Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee say at Wednesday’s hearing will go a long way toward telling how much help Republicans can expect.
One Democrat to watch is 1st District Senator Caleb Frostman. Frostman has held the seat since winning a special election in June. But he lost the seat to Republican Andre Jacque November 6th and will be out of office come January. If Democratic leadership is inclined to oppose the bill, it would have virtually no leverage where Frostman is concerned. Even a Frostman yes vote likely would leave Republican leaders needing several more Democratic votes. Frostman has not indicated how he will vote.
The liberal group One Wisconsin Now slammed the bill Wednesday, with a line of attack that could telegraph the response that Democratic lawmakers would have to Republican claims that they are turning their backs on union-represented workers if they don’t support the bill.
Republicans who oppose the plan say they fear a slippery slope; that many other Wisconsin companies would make the same ask of the state. Our source, who supports the plan, said the Kimberly-Clarke situation is unusual if not unique and he doesn’t believe lawmakers of either party would be inclined to extend similar aid to other companies. The source said Kimberly-Clark’s Fox Crossing facility would become the main manufacturing and distribution hub for adult incontinence and feminine hygiene products. With waves of aging baby boomers needing such products, it’s expected the facility will provide jobs for decades to come, our source said.
Other defenders of the proposal point to refundable tax credits offered to Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac in 2009 to keep the firm from relocating a facility to Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Kimberly-Clark had given lawmakers a Sept. 30 deadline to approve the incentives before saying it would allow time for the Senate to act. The bill, which has passed the Assembly, would give tax breaks for Kimberly-Clark to keep two plants open. But K-C has since said it will close the Neenah Nonwovens facility, eliminating more than 100 jobs. The Senate is still expected to vote on the Assembly version. Governor Scott Walker could then veto any non-relevant provisions were the bill to land on his desk.
The Cold Spring facility employs about 500 people.