It is simply remarkable that, given the recent revelations regarding the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the legislative Joint Finance Committee would approve any of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed funding increases for the agency — which even the governor acknowledges is such a mess that it needs further auditing.
The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau has already determined that the WEDC failed to maintain a basic set of standards for managing its loan, grant and tax credit programs. And the problems have not been fixed, as appropriately tough questioning of WEDC officials by Democratic and Republican legislators revealed on May 9.
Yet the committee's Republican majority voted — after making pious statements about accountability — to stream more taxpayer dollars into the WEDC coffers. While the committee members did not give WEDC all the money that Walker proposed to hand over to the agency he created, they did vote to hike its funding from the $57 million to $59.3 million in the next fiscal year.
In other words, an agency that is in trouble for mismanaging millions of dollars is being given millions more.
It was left to state Rep. Jon Richards, a Milwaukee Democrat who voted against the plan, to make an argument not just for accountability but for fiscal common sense. “I do not think we should be rewarding an agency that repeatedly broke the law with more money,” said Richards.
But there is more to this equation.
“On WEDC’s watch, the state has plummeted to 44th in the nation in job creation and continues to lag behind in economic development,” noted United Wisconsin Executive Director Lisa Subeck, who argued, “Dumping even one dollar more of taxpayer money into this failing quasi-public agency without taking the time needed to ensure it will be used responsibly and for its intended purpose is a gross violation of the public trust.”
This point regarding job creation is the essential one.
We don’t expect much from Walker when it comes to understanding and advancing jobs initiatives.
But we are deeply disappointed in Joint Finance Committee Co-chairs Alberta Darling and John Nygren — and the other Republican committee members who voted with them to increase WEDC funding. If they were serious about employment and economic development issues, they would have been far more specific in making demands on the agency. As it is, they talked a good game but failed once more to focus on the essential issue of job creation.
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