The Legislature’s budget committee has agreed to give the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation its full funding for the upcoming year.
Lawmakers had previously withheld the second year funding from the job creation agency, after an audit showed mismanagement at WEDC and the revelation that it had failed to track $12 million in loans. Joint Finance Committee co-chair Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) says the agency is clearly working to deal with those issues, after the “audit bureau went in, they laid down the gauntlet, they gave recommendations. We’ve been assured by Secretary (Reed) Hall that they have addressed each and every one of those.”
Still, Democrats on the budget panel questioned if the situation is really improving and argued that the Legislature should not restore funding until an updated audit comes out later this year. State Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) also pointed to WEDC’s track record in the past year as a sign that things are not getting better, noting that the agency fell short of job creation goals and the fact that two-thirds of it’s economic development programs failed to meet their goals in 2013.
Hall, appearing before the panel on Wednesday, defended the progress made by agency and actually fired back at Democratic criticism of its efforts. Hall said the attacks are “one of the reasons our loan demand is down. Our reputation in the state wasn’t great, and every day there’s headlines about losing $12 million in loans…that does not instill confidence in businesses.”
After more than two hours of lawmakers questioning the secretary and debate on whether to release the funds, the Finance Committee did vote to restore about $45 million in funding on a party line vote. The panel did hold back baout $35 million in surplus funding, which the Legislature could vote to divert to other areas later this spring.