Two legislative panels sunk their teeth into the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. on Thursday. A state audit has revealed evidence that WEDC gave taxpayer money to ineligible recipients and did not properly track loans and grants.
The Joint Finance committee voted to give WEDC $59M in the 2013-14 state budget but nothing in 2014-15 unless it improves.
The Joint Audit committee grilled WEDC executives for more than four hours.
Among lawmakers' comments:
“It’s shocking. We have millions and millions of dollars that have gone out the window, and the best that I can read based on this chart...is we have 2,006 jobs that have been retained -- with over $80 million spent,” said Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent.
“We had a program that’s been sold on flexibility, but really it translates into sloppiness as I read this audit, and a lax caring for taxpayers’ funds,” said Democratic Sen. John Lehman.
“While I’m obviously concerned about the results in this audit report, what I’m more interested in where we are today, and what progress has been made from the time of this audit period through today,” GOP Rep. Howard Marklein said.
WEDC CEO Reed Hall, named to the post six months ago, responded that the agency has already enacted measures to solve problems, and he disputed some audit bureau findings, calling a few alleged violations - open to interpretation. He also insisted WEDC has created more than 10 times the number of jobs the bureau estimated. “I stand by the numbers that are in our annual report, that talk about 24,000 jobs impact,” Hall said.
After WEDC’s testimony, several lawmakers outlined plans for how they’d change the agency, ranging from creating a more active board to perhaps replacing Gov. Walker as board chair.