With scant bipartisan support, Governor Scott Walker’s vision for economic development in Wisconsin moved ahead on Wednesday. Democrats worry there’s not enough oversight of this new Wisconsin Economic Development Authority, which will control $87 million in state funded economic development programs. “From the very beginning . . . I was very concerned that this bill was taking all of the economic development goodies, and putting the cookie jar into a dark pantry, and closing the door, and putting a sign on it that said ‘just trust us,”‘ said state Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma).
“You’re taking $87 million and shoving it under some carpet,” said Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). “This is an incredible monster you’re creating,” said Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison). “I can imagine any conservative voting for something like this.” Democrats also noted the new authority is modeled on what’s been done in Indiana – a state with a higher unemployment rate than Wisconsin’s. “It’s based on what I would consider a very failed system,” said Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) noting Indiana’s unemployment rate of 9.5% compared to Wisconsin’s 7.5%.
But state Senator Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) said the state needs to try a new approach to economic development – and used a Simpson’s analogy. “Bart is sitting next to a light socket, and he sticks his finger in the socket, and he goes ‘ow.’ Then he sticks his finger back in the socket and he goes ‘ow, ow, ow.’ The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and somehow expecting a different result.”
The special session bill, which is now ready for Walker’s signature, picked up two Democrat votes in the Senate, only one in the Assembly. The transition between the current Department of Commerce and the new WEDC is expected to occur after the legislature passes a new two year state budget.