Democratic lawmakers unveiled a plan Tuesday that they say would bring the embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation back under state control.
The proposal would split WEDC into the Wisconsin Department of Economic Opportunity, a state agency run by a cabinet official, and the Badger Innovation Corporation, a private firm owned by the state, and require both to more strictly manage any money given to businesses. It would also return some job creation programs to the agency that have been transferred in the past.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, and State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, who serve on the WEDC board, touted the proposal as a way to fix what they say is a faulty agency.
“WEDC is irretrievably broken, and it’s time to start talking about what comes next,” Lassa said in a statement.
The council, which provides incentives to Wisconsin businesses, has been a key part of Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to draw more businesses to Wisconsin, replacing a Department of Commerce he says was ineffective.
However, the agency has come under fire in recent months for not properly auditing the companies they support, giving out over $100 million without adequate oversight and not following state statutes and internal procedures.
The controversy sparked a Legislative Audit Bureau report and a legislative hearing last week where lawmakers questioned WEDC executives about the agency’s practices.
The co-chair of that committee, state Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, said at the hearing he would join with other committee members in authoring their own bill to alter WEDC.
A spokesperson for Cowles said there was no timeline for that bill, but that it would not likely bear any resemblance to the proposal announced by Lassa and Barca.
Barca said he doesn’t expect the bill to gain traction with the Republican majority but that it was still necessary as a starting point.
"We don't have any illusions that Republicans will pass this as is," Barca said at the press conference, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. "But we need to start the conversation."