Walker’s WEDC Needs Additional Accountability for Taxpayers

by State Senator Jon Erpenbach, 27th District

Governor Walker’s flagship economic development agency WEDC has struggled since its inception. To be fair, the Department of Commerce had a few missteps under the Doyle Administration. Even though the strategy that Governor Walker has employed has failed to bring the jobs he promised and our wages are stagnant, dead last in the Midwest, we cannot abandon our attempts to help grow businesses and help build living wage jobs.

We have now discovered that in WEDC’s first 15 months, 27 awards for a total of $124.3 million were put forth without a formal review of the deals by underwriters. This true lack of accountability and transparency lies squarely with Governor Walker.

Unfortunately in Walker’s budget he did not propose increasing accountability and transparency in how taxpayer money was spent; he did the opposite. Walker’s budget proposed exempting WEDC further from Wisconsin’s open records law which would only make it harder to find out the truth about failed accountability. More transparency is clearly needed, that is why I supported a measure to require WEDC to come to the Joint Committee on Finance when they wanted to spend money for the next two years; we called this “the pause button”.        

Walker’s WEDC also changed accountability by employees by seeking the flexibility of non-government workers in economic development. The “remake” drove out public employees by changing benefits and eliminating civil service in the agency. Instead, employees were hired at will and many more political patronage hires were made. What that meant was lack of institutional knowledge and lack of public service as a goal. In the fever to meet an arbitrary goal draped across Walker’s shoulders, corners were cut, accountability was lost. In addition to “the pause button” which would increase institutional accountability, I have also supported a measure to place all WEDC employees under the Misconduct in Public Office statutes that all other state employees are covered under. Those laws make it a felony to break Wisconsin’s laws.

These two steps along with enacting all of the recommendations of the Legislative Audit Bureau need to be enacted as soon as possible to secure the future of public support for economic development in an accountable and transparent way for our states taxpayers. While our Democratic motion failed in the Joint Committee on Finance, I will work with my colleagues to pursue these changes as Legislation. To find out more, contact my office at 608-266-6670 or 1-888-549-0027 or sen.erpenbach@legis.wi.gov