Good government advocacy groups wasted no time in blasting a Republican plan to terminate the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau.
“If you thought cronyism was a problem right now, wait until this bill passes,” said Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
In a joint statement, Common Cause Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin called the LAB “a pillar of nonpartisanship and good government in Wisconsin” and panned a proposal from state Reps. David Craig, R-Big Bend, and Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, to ax it.
Craig emailed the proposal to fellow lawmakers Monday looking for support. Included in the email was a draft of the bill they’re proposing.
Craig, the lead author of the proposed bill, didn't immediately return a call for comment.
The LAB is an independent state government review service for state agencies, which sometimes rankles lawmakers and bureaucrats with unvarnished critiques of government practices. The bureau is currently overseen by a bipartisan legislative committee, which would also be abolished under the plan.
Some believe that the plan comes in response to audits the bureau has released concerning the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-public job creation entity created by Republicans in 2011 that has been plagued with mismanagement and has awarded questionable loans and tax credits to businesses. Gov. Scott Walker serves as chairman of the WEDC board.
Rothschild said the LAB “may have done too good a job exposing the waste and cronyism over at WEDC, so now some legislators want to get rid of it."
The Audit Bureau would be replaced by a system of inspectors general who would be assigned to large state agencies. The inspectors would be appointed by a legislative committee that, like the Legislature, currently is controlled by Republicans.
"Does anyone seriously believe that partisan-appointed inspectors general would objectively assess and evaluate agency work directed by their partisan masters?,” said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. “This proposal is ridiculous on its face and ought to be rejected outright by the Assembly speaker, the state Senate majority leader and the governor immediately."
The proposal would also extend the inspectors' auditing powers to “any county, city, village, town, or school district.”
“It’s an invitation to a statewide partisan witch hunt,” said Rothschild.
The bill also would allow inspectors to act on complaints by anyone who claims to have been adversely affected by any state agency and empower inspectors to reverse an agency’s action. Agencies would not be able to appeal an inspector’s decision.
If the bill becomes law, Rothschild said,"every big donor to the party in power will complain to the inspector general about any enforcement action an agency has begun against this person, and the action could be stopped, even if the person was a tax cheat or a major polluter.”
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters, said the measure would inject even more partisanship into state government by eliminating a non-partisan watchdog.
“With all the money in politics lately, the last thing we need is to lose our nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, which has no bias but simply investigates and reports the facts about how our government agencies and officials function,” she said.