May 6, 201309:01 AMVan Lines
with Joe Vanden Plas
Is Walker taking his eye off the ball?
(page 1 of 2)
With all the chatter about a new book and a presidential run by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, one wonders whether the Republican Party’s new rock star has forgotten that he’s already got a job to do. You know, the governor’s gig in Madison?
Last year, when news of the accounting failures at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. surfaced, we were assured the problems would be fixed. Not so, at least not yet, according to a recent report from the Legislative Audit Bureau. The LAB has uncovered mistakes so basic, one wonders if anyone is minding the store at the new state agency that is supposed to promote economic development.
Instead, it appears to be promoting incompetence. According to the LAB, the WEDC failed to require financial statements from companies receiving incentives (incentives designed to promote job creation, mind you), didn’t perform adequate follow-up to make sure the promised jobs were being created, and gave awards to ineligible businesses and projects.
Without those safeguards, what do you have? Crony capitalism, that’s what.
It may turn out that most if not all the companies receiving grants will create the jobs they agreed to create when they accepted state support, but for the public to have confidence in this approach, stronger tracking and verification is required.
Beyond that, the most obvious concern is: Why is this so difficult? I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest that tracking state grants is not exactly on the scale of brokering peace in the Middle East.
The continuing failures have led some to suggest that a return to the Department of Commerce model is in order. That would be a shame because there are dedicated people, like our friend Tim Cooley, working at the WEDC, and because the agency’s model is a concept that has worked elsewhere, most notably in Indiana, the state that leads the Midwest in new job creation. Why not here?
These revelations are hardly the result of a partisan attack. It’s one thing for the governor’s critics, like State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, to suggest the WEDC be scrapped. It’s quite another for Republicans like State Sen. Robert Cowles to acknowledge the jury is still out. (While I’m not convinced this duplication is necessary, Walker had no choice but to endorse a follow-up audit.)
The lack of execution at WEDC could be impacting the political fortunes of other economic development proposals. Part of the difficulty in launching a state-funded venture capital program is that, despite talk of built-in protections, lawmakers in the governor’s own party are worried that politicians will use the money to pick winners and losers. If Washington’s record is any indication, the winners will be those who make donations to political campaigns; the losers will be taxpayers who get stuck with the bill of a failed company.