On the same day that Governor Scott Walker’s campaign released a TV ad criticizing his likely Democratic opponent over a stalled economic development deal, state officials released information indicating a $12.3 million grant never should have been awarded.
The ad focuses on a 2006 grant awarded by the state when Democrat Mary Burke was serving as Secretary of Commerce under then-Governor Jim Doyle. The grant used federal block grant dollars to support buy land in Kenosha County, as part of an effort to attract pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories to Wisconsin. Abbott had purchased about 500 acres of land, while the state grant was given to Pleasant Prairie to help purchase an adjoining 40 acres of land. The site remains undeveloped and Walker’s ad accused Burke of wasting taxpayer dollars on a plan that did not create any new jobs.
State officials revealed hours after the ad was released that the federal Housing and Urban Development office ruled in 2013 that the project was not eligible for the federal block grant dollars the state used to fund the plan. The agency said it was because there was no written commitment from Abbott to create jobs or build on the land. As a result, it ordered the state to pay back the money. State officials have said they disagreed with the finding, although the HUD order was not mentioned in Walker’s campaign ad.
Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki responded to the information released by the state in a statement, saying “Scott Walker and his administration were either lying when they defended this deal to HUD or are lying now to attack Mary Burke. Either way it’s another shameful move from career politician Scott Walker.”