By: State Representative Janis Ringhand
One of the first bills I voted for last session, as a new legislator, was the creation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Created to replace the Department of Commerce, this new public/private partnership was a big part of Governor Walker’s reforms to turn Wisconsin’s economy around. Rock County has some of the highest unemployment in the state and I voted for this legislation with the hope it would help our friends, neighbors and family members get back to work.
We’ve been on a downward spiral ever since.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Wisconsin ranks 44th in job creation and 45th in wage growth. Forbes Magazine predicts we are to be second to last in long-term job creation. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, Wisconsin is dead last in short-term job growth in the nation.
To add insult to injury, this week the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) released a full program audit of WEDC. The results were embarrassing. LAB found that WEDC authorized illegal loans and tax credits, lost track of loans and spent taxpayer money on things like football tickets, iTunes gift cards and alcohol. We trusted WEDC with millions of dollars, with one of the most important issues facing our state – creating jobs. They have let us down.
As a former small business owner, when I made an investment, I expected that 1) my money was being used wisely and 2) that I would get positive results. Taxpayers deserve the same. When evaluating the State’s investment in WEDC, neither of these expectations have been met. In FY 2011-12, WEDC’s expenditures totaled an estimated $80.1 million. In that time, they did not monitor the amount of money spent on each of its economic development programs. WEDC and its governing board did not file all required reports on time with some reports even missing required information. Finally, WEDC issued awards to ineligible recipients, for ineligible projects for more money than the law allowed.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We cannot sit by idly and allow this organization to continue misusing taxpayer dollars. Before we give them more money, we need to make sure they are being held accountable and are following the law. Too many Wisconsinites are out of work for us to not take action now. I supported a resolution earlier this week that would’ve created a bipartisan legislative committee tasked with holding WEDC accountable, protecting taxpayer money and ensuring WEDC follows the law. As a member of the Assembly Committee on Workforce Development and the Assembly Committee on Small Business Development, I will continue working hard to bring businesses to our community, bring accountability back to WEDC and get folks back to work.
As always, please feel free to contact my office if you have additional questions on this or any other state legislative matter. I can be reached toll-free at 1-888-534-0045 or by email at Rep.Ringhand@legis.wi.gov.
45th Assembly District