Assembly passes 'Mill Bill' in 96-2 vote

By Heather Poltrock

MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) - Late Thursday afternoon the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill to save paper mills in Wisconsin Rapids and Park Falls.

Republican Representative Scott Krug of Rome, recently introduced the second Mill Bill after the first was vetoed by Gov. Evers in July.

Rep. Calvin Callahan voted in favor of the bill. “The Assembly has found and passed a bipartisan solution that we believe will get the Northwoods forestry economy back in gear,” stated Rep. Callahan. “By providing funding to the Wisconsin Rapids mill to keep it semi-operational through the winter and for Park Falls in a loan to help purchase the mill for an organization that will make it operational again, I believe this is a proposal we can use to save jobs and livelihoods.”

Rep. Katrina Shankland also voted in favor of the legislation. “Over a year has gone by since the Verso paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids was first idled, and I have been firmly committed to supporting those affected by the mill’s closure and working to identify and advance bipartisan solutions. Our state’s paper, pulp, forestry and timber industries throughout Wisconsin are vital to the economy, and we must act together to strengthen these industries,” Shankland said. “As a co-author of Assembly Bill 682 and as the Assembly Vice Chair of the Legislative Paper Caucus, I am pleased that we were able to pass this meaningful, bipartisan bill through the State Assembly to support the Verso and Park Falls mills, our communities, and our state’s pulp, paper, and forestry industries today. I urge the State Senate to take up this legislation and pass it as soon as possible.”

Krug previously explained the bill has two parts. One part provides some assistance to the mills in Wisconsin Rapids and in Park Falls that is intended to keep both mills viable in anticipation of the future. It would also provide up to $1 million to keep the Wisconsin Rapids mill in a nearly operational condition in order to allow time for a sale and reopening to happen using as much existing equipment as possible.

Under the bill, $1 million in General Purpose Revenue, or GPR would be transferred to the Wisconsin Economist Development Corporation to make a grant to an eligible recipient. GPR revenue comes almost exclusively from taxes, typically individual income tax and sales tax.

The bill would also assist with the reopening of the Park Falls paper mill by providing $15 million for a loan guarantee to secure financing to reopen Park Falls. Krug explained the loan guarantee would come from GPR funds transferred to WEDC. If the guarantee is not in place by June 30, 2023, the funds go back to the general fund. If the guarantee is in place, the funds would go back to the general fund when the loan terms are complete. The second part of the bill deals with substance abuse prevention on transportation and public utility projects. A news release explained these provisions stem from discussions held during deliberations on the 2021- 23 state budget bill, which was passed this past summer.

Rep. Callahan said, “According to the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, the closure of these two mills (along with a third located in Duluth, Minnesota) has resulted in the loss of 1,300 jobs at the mills and negatively impacted 14,000 individuals and businesses who supply and service the mills.”

The bill would still need approval by the senate, which would likely not occur until January.