The head of the state’s job creation agency was grilled by lawmakers on Thursday, regarding a troubling audit. Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Reed Hall was on the hot seat at a committee hearing to examine the highly critical audit prepared by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Madison Democrat, Representative Melissa Sargent was particularly pointed, questioning the WEDC record on job creation on the same day the legislature’s budget committee was scheduled to vote on funding for the agency.
“You’re asking for more money, when there is lack of transparency, a loss of taxpayer dollars and a loss of jobs to our state,” Sargent said. “Are you proud of the direction that your agency has brought us?” Hall said WEDC “created or impacted at least 24,000 jobs” and that he is proud of the agency, “and I’m proud of what we’re going to do in the future.”
Hall took issue with Audit Bureau findings of several violations of state law by WEDC, which he said is open to interpretation. Senator John Lehman of Racine told Hall it’s not. “We take their word as pretty much the fact,” said Lehman. “I know you’ve made a point that you have some disagreements there, but must of us sitting here feel that the audit bureau has our back.”
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, who serves on the WEDC board, was derisive of Hall’s claim that the agency is impacting jobs. “Excuse my French, but what the hell does that mean? I mean it’s just ridiculous. quite frankly.”
Hall, a former Marshfield Clinic CEO, is the second person to head WEDC since it was created in 2011 to replace the State Department of Commerce. “The report does not reflect an organization that we wish it to be,” he said. Hall told members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee that the transition from the old department was largely responsible for the many problems uncovered in the audit. “The report does not reflect an organization that we wish it to be”
While Democrats have hammered on the audit as indicative of serious problems at WEDC, Governor Scott Walker continues to defend the public-private partnership as an effective means to coordinate state and local economic development efforts.