Letter from Sen. Harsdorf: Reform and refocus Wisconsin's job agency
This week brought Wisconsin more good news as we work to improve our state's finances and encourage job creation. On the state budget, new tax collection data and revenue projections now show that over $500 million in revenue growth will occur over a three-year period, indicating a growing economy. At the same time, Chief Executive Magazine again recognized Wisconsin's improved business climate by raising our state's position in their rankings to 17th in the nation, an improvement from 41st just 3 years ago.
While the positive news showing that Wisconsin is on the right track was encouraging, there is great disappointment with the results of the recent audit issued by the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). WEDC is the entity charged by the state to attract and grow jobs through administration of our state's job creation programs.
The LAB report raised serious concerns with the procedures and record-keeping policies of WEDC, while also calling into question the agency's purchasing practices. The Legislature's audit committee held a follow-up hearing this week to question WEDC officials on the audit report and to obtain information on corrective actions being taken.
Given the unacceptable report by the LAB, the budget-writing committee took action on Thursday to ensure WEDC's compliance with the audit's recommendations. Funding in the second year of the state budget will be withheld until the WEDC leadership reports to the committee on compliance with the audit. Additional audit requirements were also put in place and WEDC will now be required to adopt state purchasing requirements. As a member of the committee, I supported and voted for these measures.
In addition to the budget-writing committee's actions, I have authored two bipartisan bills seeking to improve the oversight and transparency of WEDC. One of the bills was included as part of the budget-writing committee's action, which would ensure that an independent financial audit of WEDC is completed annually. The other bill would establish fixed terms for members of the WEDC Board. Board members currently serve at the pleasure of their appointing authority. The legislation I am proposing would enable greater independence by Board members as they make economic development decisions and set WEDC policy.
While the challenges facing WEDC are significant, I am optimistic and remain hopeful that the new leadership will restore the confidence of taxpayers and elected officials. WEDC's success is important to growing our state's economy and the State Legislature's actions this week demonstrate our commitment to reform and refocus this agency.