Time To Turn The Corner

Unfortunately, as we turn the corner into a new session, lame duck bills adopted last month were designed to saddle our state with a troubled and largely failed agency -- the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) -- for months or even years to come.

The bills rushed through and signed make a number of changes to reduce or eliminate accountability at this agency. They put control of the agency and billions of your dollars into the hands of two legislators representing Southeast Wisconsin.

It has been said that this change would give the full Legislature a say over WEDC.  It doesn’t.   It gives two legislators -- the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate -- control over WEDC, its board and its CEO.  Those two legislators represent just 4% of the state but have complete control over the appointment of the majority of the WEDC board.

None of the changes made to WEDC by the extraordinary session bills are designed to make this agency more responsive or responsible to the majority of taxpayers forced to pay its bills.  

Instead of answering to a Governor elected by -- and responsible to -- the entire state, WEDC now has access to every taxpayer’s wallet in rural, northern, western and every corner of Wisconsin with little if any accountability to over 95% of the state.   Rather than beefing up a requirement that WEDC count jobs before making awards, the bills eliminate it in favor of a statistical sample.   Rather than requiring an agency that has overseen 7 straight years -- 28 quarters in a row -- trailing the nation in annual private sector job growth to improve, the bills give it freer access to Wisconsin workers’ paychecks while requiring less accountability.

That is WEDC’s record under GOP control that the lame duck bills intend to cement.  Had WEDC merely matched the national pace of private sector job creation, our state would already have 130,000 more private sector jobs.  That, in context, would be more than 10 times greater than the very rosiest prediction for FoxConn – and without the ridiculous $4.5 Billion pricetag.

As an added blow to hard-working taxpayers, the lame ducks bills also eliminate the requirement that WEDC verify job creation before making awards.  Instead of using readily available hard counts of jobs and wages, WEDC will be able to make awards based on a statistical sample.  (In fact, as WEDC faces less accountability to count jobs we learned from an audit late last month that WEDC believes it can make cash payments with your tax dollars for jobs in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and as far away as Kentucky.) As we tighten restrictions on public dollars, and with the FoxConn handout hanging over the state, it’s absurd that the lame ducks bills are giving this agency freer access to your wallets with less accountability. 

The people, communities and businesses I represent in Northwest Wisconsin would be far better off with control over our own tax dollars rather than having to funnel them through the Speaker’s Office.  In fact, every place in Wisconsin outside of the miniscule 4% of the state represented by Speaker Vos and Senator Fitzgerald would be better off.