A Democratic leader in the state legislature is urging Republican lawmakers and the governor to put the brakes on a proposal to merge two state agencies that handle economic development in Wisconsin.
Governor Scott Walker proposed combining the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) in his state budget, and Republicans this week introduced a separate bill that would handle the merger on its own. The standalone bill is intended to allow for more public discussion of the plan, outside of the confines of the budget.
Backers of the plan contend both agencies serve similar functions, and combining them would help to reduce bureaucracy.
While he applauds the idea of taking up the issue on its own, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) still has doubts about the merger. Ahead of a meeting between the boards of both agencies Thursday, Barca noted that WEDC was created just four years ago, and “it was a disaster.” He added “there was not a transition plan, there was not a business plan put together and, as best as I can determine, there isn’t with this plan either.”
Since its creation four years ago, WEDC has attracted a great deal of criticism. State audits have shown the public-private partnership failed to track loans it administers and lacked policies to collect on delinquent accounts. Barca said he hopes lawmakers take lessons learned from those issues to heart and “slow this down enormously, so we don’t have another collision course that leads to entrepreneurs and people who need housing assistance suffering.”