Staff at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation faced a number of tough questions from lawmakers Wednesday, during a hearing at the Capitol on the latest state audit to find fault with the job creation agency.
The Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee heard hours of testimony about the audit released earlier this year, which found WEDC often failed to track the jobs created by companies that were awarded state tax incentives. It was just the latest of multiple audits to find problems at the agency, which was created by Governor Scott Walker and Republicans in 2011 to replace the state Department of Commerce.
Staff defended the agency repeatedly during Wednesday’s hearing, saying that several policies have been put in place to address issues highlighted by the audit. Chief legal counsel Hannah Renfro told lawmakers “we take seriously our legal obligations and we are constantly striving to do better.”
Several lawmakers on the panel voiced frustration though about the numerous problems at the agency in its short lifetime. Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) noted that “this is the third time now that recommendations are being made by the audit committee, and we’re being told ‘oh we fixed it because we changed the policies.’ I mean, how many times is the audit committee supposed to hear that?”
Renfro admitted that she wished they could catch every mistake made by the agency, but argued that’s why checks such as the Legislative Audit Bureau exist.
Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) questioned why WEDC staff did not verify payroll information or recoup money when companies failed to meet what was required of them, which she argued is required by state law. “There needs to be public accountability and there needs to be a way to recoup those public dollars that are lost by a company that didn’t deliver what was promised,” Vinehout said. “As far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened.”
The hearing comes just as WEDC is set to undergo yet another leadership change, with Mark Hogan set to take over as CEO later this month. Outgoing CEO Reed Hall did not attend Wednesday’s hearing. Instead, he was with Governor Scott Walker at a small business summit in Eau Claire.