Sen. Bewley: Time to turn the corner
Unfortunately, as we turn the corner into a new session, lame duck bills adopted in December will saddle our state with a troubled and largely failed agency — the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) — for months or even years to come.
The bills rushed through and signed make a number of changes to reduce or eliminate accountability at this agency. They put control of the agency and billions of your dollars into the hands of two legislators representing southeast Wisconsin.
It has been said that this change would give the full Legislature a say over WEDC.
It gives two legislators — the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate — control over WEDC, its board and its CEO. Those two legislators represent just 4 percent of the state but have complete control over the appointment of the majority of the WEDC board.
Why is that important here in the north?
Well, last year we learned that northwest Wisconsin, a territory that includes Eau Claire and extends as far south as Trempealeau County, had — in total — received just 5 percent of $2 billion WEDC has given out.
That, of course, was before Foxconn.
In the wake of that gigantic boondoggle, northwest Wisconsin is now down to less than 1.7 percent of more than $5 billion in committed awards by WEDC.
Our part of the state represents nearly 12 percent of the population and has created more than 10 percent of the new private sector jobs since WEDC was handed the reins of economic development. Yet, even as we pay the bills, WEDC takes more and more, and returns less and less.
The Foxconn handout alone will more than double WEDC's total awards since it was created.
Worse yet is WEDC's terrible track record.
Before WEDC took over in 2011, Wisconsin was among the national leaders in annual private sector job creation for five straight quarters. WEDC, controlled by our Republican colleagues, has trailed the nation in private sector job creation every single quarter since — 28 straight. That's seven full years behind the national pace. And that's WEDC's record.
Had WEDC merely matched the national pace of private sector job creation, our state would already have 130,000 more private sector jobs. That, in context, would be more than 10 times greater than even the very rosiest prediction for Foxconn — and without the ridiculous $4.5 billion price tag.
As an added blow to hardworking taxpayers, the lame ducks bills also eliminate the requirement that WEDC verify job creation before making awards. Instead of using readily available hard counts of jobs and wages, WEDC will be able to make awards based on a statistical sample.
As we tighten restrictions on public dollars, it's absurd that the lame ducks bills are giving this agency freer access to your wallets.
We would be far better off in northwest Wisconsin with control over our own funds than having to funnel them through the Speaker's Office. In fact, everywhere in Wisconsin outside the miniscule 4 percent of the state represented by Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, would be better off.
Sen. Janet Bewley represents the 25th District in the Wisconsin Senate.