The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee voted on party lines to reinstate a loan program that had been shut down after issues emerged at the state's jobs agency.
The current state budget took away the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's ability to loan money to businesses starting June 30, 2017. Gov. Scott Walker's proposal for the 2017-19 budget would bring back the loan program, with some restrictions.
The committee voted 12-4 on Tuesday to allow WEDC to start issuing new loans again, and removed a requirement in Walker's proposal that those loans be funded solely with repayments of other loans. The agency would also not be able to issue forgivable loans.
WEDC officials have made "significant strides" in improving the agency's operations since a 2015 audit found the agency did not independently verify whether businesses receiving tax dollars created the jobs they promised, Joint Finance Committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, told reporters.
"We have nothing but faith in that leadership, if there's any shortcomings in future audits, they’ll take steps to correct those as well," Nygren said.
Democrats on the committee introduced several amendments that were rejected. Republicans accused them of being disingenuous and engaging in "gotcha" politics by not introducing their amendments ahead of time, a claim Democrats denied.
"This is strictly about trying to create accountability, creating fairness," said Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.
One Democratic amendment would have banned loans from being issued to anyone who has defaulted on a WEDC loan repayment. Under the rejected amendment, those people would also be prohibited from receiving the state's manufacturing and agriculture tax credit.
Another would have required WEDC award recipients to report to the agency within 30 days after any jobs are eliminated or moved out of state.