By Liz Holbrook
MADISON, WI (WSAU) — A bill to help buy back two idled paper mills has passed one chamber of the Wisconsin legislature.
Tuesday evening the Wisconsin Assembly passed Bill 367, informally known as the Mill Bill, to fund a $50 million loan for the purchase of the idled Verso mill in Wisconsin Rapids and a $15 million loan for the mill in Park Falls. The money for the loans will come from both the state’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding and from the State of Wisconsin’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.
But after the state received a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, that the loans might not be allowed under ARPA, potentially jeopardizing the funding, Governor Evers convened a bipartisan coalition to add an amendment to the bill.
Representatives included in the meeting on Monday were Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa), Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield), Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason), State Senator Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Shane Blaser, Park Falls Mayor Michael Bablick, workers, and leaders from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
While the group put together a bipartisan amendment, it was not taken up by the full Assembly on Tuesday. The amendment would have allowed more flexibility for a party to be eligible for the loans by adding “or another eligible buyer” language in the bill, given WEDC discretion to make the loans forgivable, provide greater flexibility for the buyer’s needs, and allowing WEDC to issue below-market interest rates for the mill loans.
Governor Evers released a statement on the amendment not being adopted by the full Assembly. “We had a great meeting where we worked together to address parties’ concerns and find consensus on a solution to get resources to Verso and the Park Falls Paper Mills and help support local families, communities, and economies in Wisconsin, so it’s pretty disappointing that it seems like those words yesterday from Republican legislators rang hollow and our bipartisan amendment wasn’t adopted by the Assembly.”
“We can’t afford for anyone to play politics with our state’s economic recovery. We had a great opportunity to get things done, support our paper industry, and protect good jobs for families in our state—it’s unfortunate all of that lost out to partisan politics today.”
The version of the bill that did pass the Assembly passed with bipartisan support on a 63-35 vote. The bill now moves onto the Senate for further consideration. The Senate version of the bill was recommended for passage by the Senate Committee on Economic and Workforce Development earlier on Tuesday.