Committee meets inside state Capitol to discuss WEDC audit

MADISON (WITI) -- While the Joint Finance met in one wing of the Capitol on Thursday, May 9th, Democrats on the Legislative Audit Committee pressed hard on the WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) in a separate meeting room.

A report by the Legislative Audit Bureau raised a lot of questions, and sparked heated exchanges between Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation leaders and Democrats.

The audit found the WEDC didn't always follow the law, didn't adequately track loans and gave money to ineligible companies.

On Thursday, first, state auditors presented their findings. Democrats asked whether the organization helped create any jobs during the last two years.

"I'm not sure if we know if any jobs were actually created. Can you help me understand Table 11 and help me answer the question my constituents have which is: Is this agency creating jobs?" State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D - Alma) said.

Sen. Vinehout questioned a section of the report that shows WEDC loans and grants have created or saved around five thousand jobs during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

"Because WEDC does not verify any of the information reported to it, it's difficult to assess the accuracy of the number of jobs that WEDC reported as having been created or retained as a result of its programs," Audit Director Dean Swenson said.

WEDC officials said they're working on improvements, such as firmer policies and a new computer system to better track information.

"The report as it's presented does not reflect an organization that we wish it to be. I think each audit each review adds to our roadmap of how we can improve the organization," WEDC Director Reed Hall said.

Democrats also asked the agency about a section of the report which claims the WEDC broke the law several times.

"What I hear is the agency being pretty combative about the assessment of breaking the law when I would hope you'd be doing everything in your power to make sure everyone in your organization obeys the law," State Rep. Jon Richards (D - Milwaukee) said.

"Reasonable people can sometimes disagree on the interpretation on what is required by a statute.  I assure you our entire organization top to bottom intends to comply with the law," Hall said.

Republicans, who control the audit committee, expressed a few concerns but were not as critical of the WEDC.

They said they want to work with director Hall and see the agency succeed.

"We have made significant strides, but as you said there's always more work for improvement, and more need for improvement," State Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R - Powers Lake) said.

Two Republicans who sit on both the audit and joint finance committees did not make it to the audit hearing. Representative John Nygren of Marinette and Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills were no shows.

Representative Richards of Milwaukee also sits on both panels, but began his day at the audit committee.