Barring any changes to the agenda, the Legislature's budget committee is set to take up hot-button items including medical assistance and the embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation on Thursday.
Joint Finance co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, were noncommittal when asked whether WEDC would be taken up on Thursday.
"It's on the agenda. We'll see how it goes," Darling told reporters on Tuesday. "I'm not saying there are no changes (to the agenda). It depends on how the dominoes fall."
In his two-year budget, Gov. Scott Walker called for a merger between WEDC and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, to be known as the Forward Wisconsin Development Authority.
But earlier this month, Walker scrapped the plan, calling for all proposed agency mergers to be removed from the budget. He also asked lawmakers not to move forward with separate legislation proposing the same thing.
Though the governor's request came hours after a searing audit found the agency hadn't followed state law or tracked job creation, he cited concerns from legislators, stakeholders and the WEDC and WHEDA boards in his request to halt the merger.
Since then, bad news has continued to follow WEDC, the quasi-private economic development agency Walker created to replace the state’s commerce department four years ago. Days after pressing pause on the FWDA merger, the governor said he wants to phase out direct loans to businesses.
A Wisconsin State Journal investigation, published Sunday, revealed that Mike Huebsch, Walker's former secretary of Administration, pushed for a $4.3 million WEDC loan for Building Committee Inc. — eventually reduced to $500,000, which was not repaid — even as the company was collapsing. Walker's move to halt loans came hours after the state released records relating to BCI's loan on Friday.
The company's owner, William Minahan, had contributed the maximum $10,000 donation to Walker's 2010 campaign, but Walker's office told the State Journal he hadn't been aware of the contribution.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this week that Walker had been copied on a letter promising the loan, but his attorney said the governor had never received that letter.
In La Crosse on Saturday, Walker defended WEDC itself, saying the “broader vision is actually very successful,” according to the Associated Press.
Still, it's unclear what lawmakers on Joint Finance will do about WEDC.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has prepared memos for the committee under the assumption that some changes proposed by Walker would now be administered by WEDC instead of FWDA.
One proposal would provide $55 million in 2016-17 for WEDC to establish a regional revolving loan fund grant program. Another would change the agency's grant and loan reporting requirements, including raising from $100,000 to $500,000 the threshold for when a grant or loan recipient must have a CPA determine whether the funds were spent within the rules of the contract.
A third would make changes to the agency's open records policy. That proposal would add two new exemptions to the state's open records law as it applies to WEDC: "(a) records containing financial or personal information provided by an applicant; and (b) records consisting of information on the In Force Network, or other similar customer relationship management system, maintained by WEDC, unless the information is published to the In Force Network or other system by the Corporation or another economic development organization."
Also on the agenda are a host of issues related to Medicaid, including the SeniorCare program.
Nygren has said ensuring that services provided through the SeniorCare, Family Care and IRIS programs remain available to those who use them.