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May 23, 2015

Audit shows continued problems at Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

The troubled Wisconsin Economic Develop Corporation is still having problems complying with a number of state laws and regulations, according to the findings of a report released Friday morning by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.

The audit is based on a review of more than 100 awards made by WEDC during the 2013-14 fiscal year. It found the public-private agency failed to include provisions in grants and loans that contractually require recipients to submit information proving they created and retained jobs. The LAB also discovered that “WEDC did not establish all statutorily required policies for its tax credit programs, did not consistently evaluate whether businesses met all eligibility requirements in its tax credit policies, and allocated tax credits in ways that did not consistently comply with statutes and its policies.”

State Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), who co-chairs the legislature’s Audit Committee, said in a statement that “It is unacceptable that certain issues raised in the previous audit report have not been addressed. Maintaining administrative oversight and verifying of our job creation efforts should be a vital aspect to assuring WEDC’s grant, loan and tax credit programs are fruitful and are creating jobs.”

WEDC Secretary and CEO Reed Hall said in a statement that “Today’s audit acknowledges many areas in which WEDC has made improvements to our procedures, and the positive results of those changes, including a significant decline in loan delinquency rates and uncollectable loans, and providing a high level of customer service to businesses and other stakeholders. However, we strongly disagree with findings in that audit that WEDC is not verifying job creation or following state statutes and policies. We will review the audit’s recommendations, but it is imperative that WEDC continue to have the flexibility needed to respond quickly to the needs of Wisconsin’s business community.”

The audit is just the latest in a long line of reports that have shown continued problems with operations at WEDC, which was created early on in Governor Scott Walker’s first term as a replacement for the state Department of Commerce.

Republicans want to ban abortions after 20 weeks

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin)

Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin)

Senate President Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) is a main sponsor of the so-called Pain Prevention Act. She said fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks gestation, and Republicans want to prevent that. “All of the sensory receptors, the spinal cord, the nerves are all developed at 20 weeks and the baby feels pain. So what this is, is to prevent the babies from feeling pain. So it’s a pain prevention bill.”

Those who oppose the ban believe it would jeopardize women’s health. Lisa Boyce with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said abortions later in pregnancy is an extremely rare occurrence. “The individuals who are behind this bill are the same individuals who are opposed to women’s access to birth control and abortion at every stage from the first week on, so,” Boyce said, “this clearly is a concerted effort to end women’s access to reproductive care.”

Lazich said there is a medical emergency provision in the bill. Though, there’s no exception for rape, incest, or serious fetal deformity.

Representative Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) is another lead sponsor of the proposal. “I believe we have a duty and a moral obligation to protect these children from the horrific procedures used to snuff out their lives,” he said in a statement.

Mike Murray is with Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, who opposes the plan. “It’s an unnecessary and dangerous intrusion on the doctor-patient relationship between women and their doctors.” He said, “It’s a very ill-conceived idea for lawmakers to insert themselves into very personal and often difficult medical decisions that women need to be making with their doctors and their own families.”

Governor Scott Walker said he would sign the bill. “I’m pro-life; and whether you’re pro-life or not, after five months when an unborn child can feel pain,” he told reporters in Milwaukee on Thursday, “I think pro-life or not, majority of people believe that that’s a realistic requirement.”

Doctors who violate the measure would be penalized. Mothers would not.

In 2013, there were 86 abortions reported to have taken place after 20 weeks.

Walker in front of pack in Iowa GOP caucus, Quinnipiac University poll finds

Governor Scott Walker delivers his fifth state of the state address. 1/13/15 (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Governor Scott Walker delivers his fifth state of the state address. 1/13/15 (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has a strong lead among the field of competitors for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination. “He’s obviously won the fresh face award,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the poll.

Walker, who has not officially entered the race yet, had the support of 21 percent of likely Iowa Caucus-goers who were questioned over an 11-day period that ended on Monday. The poll found a “four-way scramble for second place” among Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee — all of whom are declared candidates. “The four of them are roughly even,” Brown said.

Huckabee won Iowa’s 2008 Caucuses, Rand Paul helped his father campaign for president here in 2012 and Cruz gained national notice almost as soon as he joined the U.S. Senate in 2013. Rubio barely registered in Quinnipiac’s February survey of Iowa Caucus-goers, but Brown says Rubio got a bounce in Iowa from the events he held to formally enter the race in mid-April. “There seems to be a yearning within the Republicans for a new candidate, a new persona for the party,” Brown said.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush leads or is among the leaders in national polls, but Bush registered just five percent support in Quinnipiac’s survey — a seventh place position among the pack of GOP presidential hopefuls. Brown said 45 percent of those surveyed said Bush was not conservative enough. “Mr. Bush, who was the governor of Florida for eight years and was very popular with conservatives there at the time, currently has a problem with Iowa Caucus-goers,” Brown said. “By 45-39 percent they have an unfavorable view of Mr. Bush. That’s not a good thing for a candidate who’s asking these people to endorse him for president.”

Twenty-five percent of those surveyed said they would definitely NOT support Bush and 20 percent said they would not vote for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie either.

The poll has a margin of error of 3.8 percent.

O.K. Henderson, Radio Iowa

Report says no additional revenue expected for Wisconsin budget

Wisconsin state Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin state Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

A new report says no additional revenue is expected to help lawmakers craft Wisconsin’s two-year state budget.

The memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says there is no need to adjust revenue estimates it released earlier this year, which projected tax revenue growth of 3.7 percent for 2013-14. While LFB director Bob Lang indicated tax collections for this year may exceed projections, forecasts in the national economy have been downgraded. As a result, slower growth over the next two years will likely offset any bump.

The news comes as a big hit to Republicans, who had been banking on improved revenue estimates to help undo some of the cuts to education included in Governor Scott Walker’s proposed state budget. Those include a $300 million reduction for the University of Wisconsin System and a $127 million cut to public schools.

Democrats on the budget-writing panel were quick to criticize the revelation that no additional revenue is expected. Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) said Republicans have been “promising pots of gold at the end of the rainbow – the magic money the GOP was counting on is not there,” while Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) argued the numbers are a sign “Republicans need to simply start over.”

In a statement, Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said “Wisconsin will end the biennium with a balanced budget and our proposed budget will result a near $500 million surplus.  In the next couple months, we will continue to work with legislative leaders to protect public school funding and ensure it remains whole.”

In a joint statement, Finance Committee co-chairs Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Falls) noted that the report shows that Wisconsin’s economy is continuing to grow, despite a troubled national economic forecast. Both pledged that “ss we move forward with the budget process, we will remain dedicated to investing in public education, protecting taxpayers, and growing our state’s workforce.”

Vote leaves Wisconsin drunk driver program funding in limbo

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Republicans on the Wisconsin legislature’s budget panel backed a recommendation from Governor Scott Walker on Tuesday, voting to move oversight functions for a pretrial intoxicated driver intervention grant program from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Health Services, and leaving funding in doubt.

The Joint Finance Committee’s Republican majority rejected a motion by Democrats to leave the program as is.

“Somebody is going to be killed by one of these drivers, who could have got treatment in this program, if we don’t do this and fund it,” said Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison), who suggested that the issue was not a priority for Republicans.

“You can’t tell me it isn’t a priority for me, because it is,” said Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). “But I’ll tell you what, it’s different being on the other side of the aisle, when we have balance a budget, and we have to live within our means.”

Ten Wisconsin counties use the state grant, and  matching funds, on pretrial diversion programs for drunk drivers. Under the change, DHS would need to find funding to continue the program. The vote to reject the Democrat’s motion was 12-4.

In other action on Tuesday, GOP members rejected a Democratic motion to insert redistricting reform in the state budget. The proposal was similar to a stand-alone bill offered by Democrats last session, modeled on the non-partisan system in place in Iowa.

“You don’t have to adopt something that doesn’t make sense for Wisconsin just because all of a sudden a bunch of editorial page editors are writing stories about it,” said Representative Dean Knudson (R-Hudson). Under the current system, redistricting is in the hands of legislative leaders.

Governor Scott Walker’s budget includes an increase of $422, 600 for the next two years for the governor’s office. Democrats noted Walker’s absences as he explores a presidential campaign as they offered an amendment to delete the increase, but that failed on a 12-4 vote.

The committee did find consensus on the needs of prosecutors in Wisconsin’s 72 counties, and the state public defenders office. They voted unanimously to increase salaries for assistant and deputy district attorneys, and assistant public defenders, and to add 35 additional public defenders.

Also, the panel approved a motion by Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), to make district attorneys in Florence, Pepin and Buffalo counties full time. The original proposal was for only Florence County to get the funding for a full time DA, but Erpenbach noted that the other counties have significantly larger populations.