Madison, Wisconsin (WSAW) – The Mill Bill is being sent to Gov. Tony Evers for signature after being passed by the Senate this week. The bill will use federal COVID-19 aid dollars to provide a loan to a logging company to buy two pulp mills in Wisconsin that have closed over the past year.
The bill passed 63–35 in the Assembly and 20–12 in the Senate. This would allow the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to provide a forest cooperative, which is made up of state forest industry employees, a $ 50 million loan to purchase the Verso Mill in Wisconsin Rapids and a $ 15 million loan to purchase the Flambeau River. Paper mill in Park Falls.
The loan will use dollars received under the US Rescue Plan Act, which are due to be returned to the government in two years. However, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Office had concerns about whether the funds could be used in this way.
“The question in this scenario is not whether business will be affected, but whether we can use dollars to provide a loan as a loan and that they will have to pay it back in two years, or we will owe federal money,” – said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point).
If the loan is not repaid on time, or if ARPA dollars cannot be used in this way, the state will have to pay $ 65 million to the federal government.
Rep. Shankland said local legislators, the mayor of Wisconsin Rapids, the factories union, WEDC, LFB and the governor have talked about the issue, and the governor’s administration has proposed an amendment to the bill. The amendment will use state dollars through WEDC to provide a loan and turn it into an unforgivable loan. The bill was passed by both chambers without amendment.
Rep. Shankland said she voted in favor of the unchanged bill, but hopes they can work together to ensure that federal funds can be earmarked for the loan so that Wisconsin does not have to repay the money.
Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) and Senator Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) argue that the wording about how money can be used is clear.
“The federal government is not going to directly clarify, okay, you have a paper mill in central Wisconsin that needs some help, we’re going to let you use those funds for that,” Rep. Krug said. “The way this program was developed, the US remediation law, is designed specifically for what is happening in downtown Wisconsin and above in Park Falls to ensure that these mills and these employees can return to work.”
“What I find disingenuous in the Governor’s approach and in some of the statements we heard in the Senate Hall yesterday is that while he will not approve ARPA money for the loan, he has no problem the day after The Assembly voted on the Million Bill. , he sent out a press release stating that he was going to provide $ 140 million from ARPA funds in subsidies to the tourism industry, ”said Senator Testin. “So, on the one hand, the governor will use the ARPA fund, which is a grant, this is money that will never be returned back to the state, and on the other hand, a loan that will be returned to the state, which may then be abandoned by the governor. use as a revolving loan fund for the paper industry ”.
Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday morning that he has yet to see the bill approved. He said he supports the opening of factories and the return of high-paying jobs in these communities, but he wants to make sure that the money funding this venture, whether from government or federal funds, is made responsibly.
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