State should focus on fixes to WEDC

WHEN SCOTT WALKER WAS first elected governor of Wisconsin, he promised big changes.

One of his first targets was the former Commerce Department. The status quo of a large, slow-moving bureaucracy was unacceptable, so Walker proposed a public-private agency that would be nimble and quickly focus on job creation and economic development. Staffing was to be cut from 300 to 50.

Such an undertaking is huge and there were bound to be some growing pains. A state audit in 2012 found the WEDC lacked oversight on $56 million in loans and awarded funds that exceeded limits to ineligible recipients for ineligible projects.

The results of that audit: term limits for WEDC board members and annual audits, instead of biennial. Those were instituted in 2013.

Problems, however, have continued. A Legislative Audit Bureau report that came out in May looked at fiscal years 2013 and 2014 and still found some basic missteps.

For example, the audit “found that recipients contractually required to create or retain jobs were not contractually required to submit information, such as payroll records, showing that the jobs were actually created or retained” and that the WEDC “awarded tax credits without attempting to verify the accuracy of information submitted by businesses.”

The audit raises serious questions, and among them is this: At what point do we cease to blame growing pains and take responsibility for the problems?

How about now?

It’s time for the governor and the Legislature to focus on issues like the WEDC, where costly problems have been identified, instead of creating issues where there aren’t any, such as the recent proposals to gut the Open Records Law and overhaul the

Government Accountability Board.

Walker no longer has the distraction of a presidential campaign and the Legislature has passed a biennial budget, so the upcoming fl oor period that begins Oct. 20 seems to be a good time to tackle some of the issues raised in the audit.

We’re not saying the agency should be disbanded. For every story of a company that got aid but didn’t create the jobs promised, there are stories of companies that use tax credits, loans and grants to stay in Wisconsin, expand operations and create jobs.

We also understand that not every business venture will succeed. Risk is inherent in a capitalist, market economy. Therefore, there is a chance that expansion and job creation plans may not pan out.

That’s why there are policies put in place for oversight. Ignoring those protocols, as the audit suggests, is not acceptable because as long as the WEDC is awarding tax credits, loans and grants that are funded with taxpayer money, it needs to account for its decisions.

A good place for the Legislature to start is with the recommendations made in the audit that, in part, call on the WEDC “to improve its administration of grant, loan, and tax credit programs, and for its governing board to improve its program oversight and financial management.”

The state Senate has started a five-city tour of the state to talk about economic development issues. While we would have preferred these stops be made public, we like that the Senate is seeking some input.

Now it needs to turn the results of the audit and these hearings into action to ensure accountability and transparency. Surrendering to the status quo is unacceptable. — Press-Gazette Media, Oct. 3


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