Scott Walker Defends Wisconsin Subsidies to Kohl's

The credits arrived despite Walker's limited-government philosophy.

Kohl's Corp. signage is seen on the facade of a store in Concord, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. Kohl's Corp. is expected to release earnings figures on Feb. 26.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker defended his administration's use of multi-million-dollar taxpayer subsidies to assist Kohl's department stores—a retailer he mentions in almost every speech as he prepares for a seemingly certain 2016 Republican presidential bid—saying in an interview with the Des Moines Register that his Democratic predecessor offered similar incentive packages for other companies.

"You're talking about thousands of jobs," he told the Register. "It's not unlike what we do with the package the state has available for any number of employers out there. The dollar amount's only bigger because instead of a hundred jobs, you're talking about thousands and thousands of jobs."

Walker had been asked to respond to a Bloomberg story earlier this week that outlined how his administration awarded a state incentive package worth as much as $62.5 million to Kohl's in 2012, when there was a slight chance the company would move its national headquarters out of the state. The credits arrived despite Walker's limited-government philosophy.

The Wisconsin governor invokes Kohl’s to sell himself as a frugal steward of tax dollars, and as a common man who “didn’t inherit fame and fortune,” a none-too-subtle jab at Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton, whose families dominated U.S. politics for much of the 1990s and 2000s. What he doesn't mention is the taxpayer subsidies to the third-largest U.S. department store chain.

"My predecessor did the same thing," Walker told the Register. "He actually did a big incentive."

Walker was referring to Democrat Jim Doyle, who he replaced as Wisconsin's top executive in 2011. Doyle's administration approved $65 million for Mercury Marine in 2009 to stay in Fond du Lac.

The package for Kohl's is tied to making $250 million in capital improvements and hiring 3,000 more employees. If the company ultimately spends less on its headquarters or hires fewer employees, it will receive proportionately fewer tax credits. Slightly more than a quarter of those jobs have materialized. When the package was awarded, Kohl’s had 3,782 non-retail jobs in the state, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. It now has 4,576, a gain of 794.

As of February 2014, Kohl’s had made $71.6 million in capital investments and received about $8.8 million in credits based on its spending and addition of employees, according to the most-recent synopsis available from the economic development agency.

In its story, the Register said the "apparent contradiction" between Walker's use of Kohl's to sell his frugality and the state incentive package doesn't "sit well with some likely GOP caucus-goers in Iowa."

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