Mike Ivey, a prominent columnist at the Wisconsin Capital Times, suggests that the state could have avoided this mess if it had followed the advice of Good Jobs First. He writes: “The agency designed by Gov. Scott Walker to replace the old Commerce Department was simply over its head, short-staffed and filled with political appointees with no experience in handling large amounts of public money. But Wisconsin could have avoided a lot of those problems altogether if it had heeded the advice of Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group that warned of the pitfalls of public-private partnerships like WEDC two years ago.”
This warning came in our January 2011 report Public-Private Power Grab. We had written this at a time when several governors, including Walker, were publicly considering privatizing their economic development agencies. In reviewing how things turned for states that had previously taken that step, we found issues of misuse of taxpayer funds, excessive executive bonuses, conflicts of interest in subsidy awards, questionable claims about job creation and entrenched resistance to accountability.
Wisconsin went ahead with the creation of the privatized WEDC. It now turns out that the WEDC failed to adequately account for some $56 million in loans made to companies. It also was chided by the federal government for mishandling $10 million in federal grant money. The CEO and CFO of the agency have already resigned. Watchdog groups, like WISPIRG, have found the WEDC sliding backwards on transparency issues as well.
The WEDC turns out to be another example of the pitfalls privatizing economic development.