Monday, October 22, 2012

Acountabilty Cuts Both Ways

I'm disappointed more of my fellow fiscal conservatives aren't joining in the criticism of the Walker Administration for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's mishandling of loans given out to businesses.  Somehow, nobody ever bothered to track $8-million worth of outstanding loans when the program was transferred from the former Department of Commerce to the WEDC.  What disappoints me is that we expect accountability from every use of government tax dollars--but this snafu seems to escape the same kind of scorn.

I'm pretty sure that if $8-million worth of food stamps had gone missing, there would be calls from every Republican for additional audits, the immediate firing of everyone in that department, new laws to punish those who benefited and proposed cuts to the program because obviously it is rife with fraud and waste.  The same goes for misappropriated child care funding, Medicaid payments and unemployment benefits.  I would hope that because the beneficiaries of the WEDC's lack of oversight were business owners and entrepreneurs, that it's somehow "Okay" to just let the problem slide.  Wasted taxpayer money holds the same value if its going into a failed start up as it does if its going to build a swindler's mansion with an indoor pool and basketball court.

What's more, the WEDC has failed to comply with a STATE LAW requiring it to track the use of such loans and grants--and to account for the number of new jobs created or old jobs retained--by the use of that money.  As the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group pointed out last week, just two reports are included on the new "accountability" website of the 249 companies that got grants, loans and job creation tax credits.  That should lead everyone to wonder, what's up with the other 247?  Are we to assume that they are NOT producing the new jobs that were promised?  And if they aren't--just level with us on that--instead of trying to hide the facts behind spin and happy-face press releases.

The WEDC was hailed as a great example of the private and public sector working together to build the state's economy.  No longer would career bureaucrats push around mounds of paperwork, applications and permits before determining what businesses would qualify for loans and credits.  The state would also be "more responsive to the changing economic landscape".  Which makes this failure of accountability all the more frustrating--because these aren't career public employees who don't understand the value of tax dollars, these were supposed to be private sector leaders--with experience in keeping track of money and holding people accountable for the way that money is spent.

Obviously, CEO Paul Jadin was in over his head on this job--and he resigned before there were too many calls for his hide.  Let's hope the Walker Administration picks someone better suited to the position--and who will run it like a real corporation--and not just another branch of government hemorrhaging our money.

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