Harley’s future may hang in the balance

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Harley-Davidson Inc. executives told Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett the company wants to resolve its cost issues with its employees internally and does not want the process to be "politicized."
Barrett met with Harley’s senior executives last week and assured them that as mayor, the city would be willing to consider options to help the company stay in Milwaukee.
"We are prepared to work with Harley-Davidson," Barrett said. "(The company) wants to work this out internally."
He said Harley-Davidson, which has about 14,000 employees in Wisconsin, wants to negotiate any wage cuts or job eliminations at its plants in Milwaukee, Menomonee Falls and Tomahawk.
Barrett, who said he worked on the Harley assembly line in 1976, acknowledged the company’s historic and iconic presence in Milwaukee.
Harley’s threat to leave Wisconsin if the company cannot trim enough of its costs to operate here became a political issue in the governor’s race.
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for governor, said, "As governor, I will fight to lower the cost of doing business so we can bring 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin. (Governor) Jim Doyle and Tom Barrett want to give tax breaks to Spanish manufacturers at the same time their failed policies are driving jobs and employers out of the state."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Neumann said, "I want to reassure Harley and ask that they please wait on making a decision – because as governor, my highest priority will be keeping good jobs like those at Harley right here in Wisconsin and creating new jobs across the state."
State Rep. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) called for a special session of the legislature to repeal the state’s combined reporting tax.
"There can no longer be any doubt that the Democrat’s combined reporting tax has created a significant burden on Harley-Davidson and other Wisconsin employers. Shortly after this tax was passed in 2009, Harley-Davidson was forced to pay the state an additional $22.5 million in taxes and lay off another 400 employees," Vukmir said.
Barrett said Harley officials did not mention the combined reporting tax in his discussions with the company.
For now, Barrett said he will respect the company’s request to refrain from injecting politics into the company’s negotiations.
"They would prefer that this not enter the political realm," Barrett said.
As Harley looks to cut $54 million in expenses, Doyle Commerce Secretary Aaron Olver has reached out to the company to offer the state’s help.
Commerce spokesman Tony Hozeny says the current state budget provided "powerful and flexible new tools, from enterprise zones to consolidated tax credits" to help businesses.
"The company would be eligible for any of these tax credits, plus many of our financing programs," Hozeny said in an e-mail. "We can’t speculate at this time which programs would be most useful, but when and if the company identifies specific needs, we will determine the best match among our many assistance programs."
– BizTimes Milwaukee & WisPolitics.com

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