Gov. Scott Walker has scheduled an emergency meeting of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. for Wednesday in the wake of a scathing audit released last week detailing serious problems at the state’s flagship jobs agency.
Walker also told reporters Monday that he is talking with University of Wisconsin System officials about how much money would be needed to cover the costs of freezing tuition throughout the system, saying it remains unclear how much of the $181 million he originally budgeted for the System will instead go to K-12 schools and tax cuts.
“We want to be able to make sure that we will be able to freeze tuition for the students in the University of Wisconsin System but also make sure that they have access to a world-class education. So we don’t want to do anything that hampers that,” Walker said. “I don’t know that there’s a specific number.”
The governor is considering the shift in the wake of a state report that the System had about
$650 million in reserves at the end of last fiscal year. That number could grow by another $150 million, UW officials have said.
A new budget estimate is expected to come out this week and will likely help shape budget plans.
State Superintendent Tony Evers said he thinks a relatively robust surplus means there should be enough resources for all public education, including the state university system.
“I’d be concerned about saying, ‘Let’s take money away from one part of public education and hand it off to another,’” Evers said.
Walker also said Monday that state officials would address concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Justice about the treatment of disabled students in Wisconsin’s private voucher schools. But Evers said it might be difficult for the state Department of Public Instruction to respond because it might not have the authority to address the issue.
On the WEDC, Walker, who serves as the agency’s board chairman, said he wants the board to discuss in detail the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau’s report, which found the agency repeatedly failed to follow state laws, didn’t track loans and awarded money to ineligible projects, among other things.
Walker said many of the problems cited by the audit released last week were addressed in previous audits and have been resolved or are in the process of being resolved.
The meeting will come a day before the Legislature’s budget committee is scheduled to consider Walker’s budget proposals for WEDC, which include a financial boost for additional marketing activities — specifically
$3.75 million in state money in 2013-14 and another $7.15 million in 2014-15 — as well as $6 million for economic development programs known as “seed accelerator” and “capital catalyst” programs.
Some Democrats have called for the vote to be postponed until audit issues can be addressed.
The Legislature’s audit committee also is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the audit report.