Chris Larson discusses WEDC audit fallout

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Chris Larson discusses WEDC audit fallout

Premiere Date: 
May 9, 2013

Chris Larson discusses the fallout over a recent critical state audit of WEDC.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Zac Schultz:

Democrats are doing more than just criticizing the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. They're drafting bills to give the board of directors more power. The board of directors includes sitting members of the legislature and business leaders from the private sector. But Democrats say the board doesn't have enough authority to oversee the executive director and staff at WEDC. Joining us now from Milwaukee is the Democratic minority leader in the senate, Chris Larson. Senator Larson, thanks for joining us.

Chris Larson:

Thanks for having me.

Zac Schultz:

Well, what do you think of the changes passed by the Joint Finance Committee yesterday?

Chris Larson:

Well, I think it's a good measure. It would have been nicer if they had passed this two years ago when Democrats originally proposed some of these safeguards to make sure you have some oversight, you have someone overlooking these tens of millions of dollars being spent by an entity that's otherwise unaccountable, to make sure that they are actually creating jobs over at this agency, and to make sure that they're actually supposed to be doing what they're supposed to be doing. We've had a slew of problems. This is just the latest one. There was the scandal just this last week where their communications director had to be let go because it turned out he didn't pay his taxes. What continues to be troubling about this agency is not just their lack of ethics, but also the lack of jobs. This report turned out that it showed that-- It turned out to show that there's only 2,000 jobs that have been retained by this agency after spending over $80 million. That's not a recipe for success, regardless of the scandals that have plagued it.

Zac Schultz:

Well, in talking, some of the measures that are out there to try and reform WEDC, Senator Tim Cullen, a Democrat from your caucus, has proposed a bill that would give the board of directors more authority. Do you support that idea?

Chris Larson:

Yeah. I think right now the board, as we saw on Wednesday, is just kind of there as a backdrop for Governor Walker when he wants to do a press conference and try and make it seem like they're actually doing anything. But when you talk to individual members of this board, they're pretty frustrated because they're getting information as the public is getting it, which means it's only when an audit comes out and it's leaked to the press and leaked to the public that the board members are finding out what's actually going on behind closed doors at WEDC, and it's completely different from what they're hearing otherwise. So, yeah, having some teeth in the board would be key. I think another key component is to not have the governor be the chairman of the board. He's the appointing authority of the person who directs it. A lot of his ex-campaign workers are the ones who run this agency, and I think that there's too much power in one person at this agency. And we've seen-- I think that's the source of a lot of these problems, is it's just one person who knows what's going on, and Governor Walker's not telling other people what those problems are. So we’d like to see those. We're going to unveil a larger package of more reforms to make sure that WEDC is on task. And if it's not, we need to return to the old agency, which allows things to be accountable, which allows taxpayers to track the dollars, and make sure that the jobs are being created. And if they’re not, the money comes back to the taxpayers, it just doesn't just go to whoever friends they want it to go to.

Zac Schultz:

Obviously we know that WEDC was created by Governor Walker and the Republicans. We know Governor Walker has close ties to everyone he has appointed there. Seeing as such, is there any way to remove the politics from anything to do with reforming WEDC or any of its successes or failures? It seems that Republicans are defending it and Democrats are attacking it, and will that change?

Chris Larson:

Well, actually to go back, there were a lot of Democrats who voted for WEDC in the first place. Senator Cullen was one of them. He asked for all these measures. HE said, well, this might be able to work. We want to create jobs. But what we don't want is a blank check to be turned over to the governor and to his friends to say, okay, here, do whatever you want to. We've seen the results of that. We are 44th in the nation in terms of private sector job growth. We are last in the country in short-term job growth. And so it shows that this is not a recipe for success. So what's interesting now is that you're getting Republicans who are finally pushing away the Kool Aid and saying, let's make sure we know what's going on here because those jobs are not being created. Even while Reid Hall, who's in charge over there, was before the audit committee, they said, this only shows 2,000 jobs created. He said, well,  I dispute that number. I think it's a lot more. And so it shows even within their own agency, they don't even admit what's going on. They think that they're doing a lot more. So it's essential that there's good, traditional democratic checks and balances. It's not about Democrat or Republican being right all the time. It's about making sure there's a check and balance for the taxpayers and for the citizens of Wisconsin to get what they pay for.

Zac Schultz:

All right, Senator Larson, thanks for your time.

Chris Larson:

Thank you.


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