Since the bombshell, nonpartisan legislative audit last month, WEDC has been shown to be a financial, ethical, and legal disaster. As a small-business owner, I am deeply concerned that, two years into Wisconsin being "Open for Business," we are searching for answers as to why we continue to fall backward in job creation and economic progress.
Wisconsin deserves good-quality, family-sustaining jobs. I know that if we roll up our sleeves and work together, we can achieve economic security and real job creation. However, the business-as-usual model is not working. WEDC thus far has created an atmosphere a lot like "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome": no rules, no laws. The following failures must be addressed to get Wisconsin back on the right track:
10. ZERO verified jobs since its creation
WEDC did not verify any of the performance measure information submitted by grant and loan recipients. According to the law, no verification means zero actual jobs created. Wisconsin needs real, verified jobs — not more smoke and mirrors.
9. Fraudulent credit card spending
About 56 percent of transactions on WEDC credit cards had no specified purpose. These transactions included Badger football season tickets, iTunes gift cards and alcohol.
8. Complete lack of accountability
Just this month CEO Reed Hall stated that it was his "goal" for WEDC to follow the law. However, as recently as February of this year, proactive steps were yet to be taken.
7. No transparency
WEDC’s bookkeeping is so bad that three years into operations, they have not even finalized a budget. Over $80 million in taxpayer dollars has been spent with no balance sheet to look at.
6. Jobs tax credits minus the jobs
Contracts executed through the Jobs Tax Credit program did not require a business to create any jobs. Any rational person should find it laughable that a jobs tax credit would require no job creation.
5. Employee bonuses
One-fifth of WEDC’s staff received a merit bonus in December 2012. What private sector company gives bonuses to employees who are failing at their job?
4. Conducting business with no policy manual
WEDC did not have sufficient policies to administer its grant, loan, and tax credit programs effectively. They also made financial awards to ineligible recipients and awards that exceeded the limits allowed under state statutes.
3. Numerous laws broken
The legislative audit includes variations of this statement such as "did not comply with statute" or "did not have adequate policies to be in line with legislative directions." But make no mistake: WEDC broke the law at least six times.
2. Class I felonies
If brought to court, WEDC managers could be charged with Class I felonies. These are not minor violations. Some examples of Class I felonies include harboring or aiding a felon, and intentional theft of trade secrets. These crimes should give any citizen of Wisconsin serious pause.
1. Is Wisconsin really "Open for Business"?
WEDC is billed as Gov. Scott Walker’s flagship jobs agency, and yet Wisconsin has fallen to 44th in the country in job creation and the state is dead last in short-term job growth. The results speak for themselves.
Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, is a member of the Assembly.