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Committee signs off on Wisconsin venture capital bill

Committee signs off on Wisconsin venture capital bill

A bill that would put $25 million in state money into Wisconsin startups passed its first hurdle in the Assembly despite controversy surrounding Gov. Scott Walker's jobs-creation agency.

The Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining approved the bill on an 8-6 vote Friday.

The legislation from Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, would put the money into a fund that invests in young Wisconsin companies. It would require the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to contract with a fund manager to manage the investments.

Some Democrats say the state shouldn't trust the WEDC after a scathing audit found that the agency didn't adequately track loans it awarded and gave money to unqualified companies.

Kuglitsch says those complaints are political.

The full Assembly will take up the bill Tuesday.

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Gov. Scott Walker's beleaguered jobs-creation agency would have to meet several tough new requirements before it gets money to operate under provisions the Republican-controlled budget committee has approved.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee added the accountability provisions to the budget Thursday on a party line vote.

Under the provision, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. could not spend any money in the second year of the state budget until it showed lawmakers that improvements had been made.

The new requirements come in response to a scathing audit released last week that said WEDC did not follow state law or adequately track loans it awarded.

Democrats wanted to cut the agency's funding as well, but Republicans rejected that.

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5/9

A Democratic lawmaker on the Legislature's audit committee is questioning whether the troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has created any jobs.

The quasi-governmental WEDC provides financial assistance to businesses. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee met Thursday to review a state report released last week that found WEDC didn't consistently follow the law or its own policies during its first year, didn't adequately track loans and gave tax breaks to companies that didn't qualify.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma pointed out the report noted WEDC has reported its efforts have created or saved around 5,000 jobs. But the report cautions WEDC received only 45 percent of contractually required progress reports and the agency didn't verify any of the information. The report says it's difficult to verify the accuracy of WEDC's numbers.

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5/8

Any increase in funding for Gov. Scott Walker's premier jobs-creating agency may be held by the Legislature until certain improvements are made.

Budget committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren said Wednesday that the panel was moving ahead with voting on Walker's proposed $14 million spending increases for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. on Thursday.

But Nygren says the money may be held by the Joint Finance Committee until WEDC enacts certain reforms and installs accountability measures.

Democrats have called for a delay in consideration of WEDC's budget given serious issues raised in a nonpartisan audit last week that showed the agency didn't follow the law, follow its own policies or track millions of dollars it gave in grants and tax breaks.

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Republican state Rep. Jeff Stone says lawmakers are greatly frustrated with the state's economic development agency, and they want quick action.

Stone's comments came Wednesday at a board meeting for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. A recent audit of the job-creation agency found a number of serious missteps.

Stone, a board member, said WEDC is an organization ``in intensive care,'' and lawmakers want to see dramatic improvement quickly.

State Sen. Julie Lassa, a Democrat and fellow board member, said she shared Stone's frustration. She said the agency hasn't done a good enough job of communicating issues to the board, making it difficult for the board to provide proper oversight.

Members of WEDC described steps already being taken to help solve problems, including new procedures for evaluating and tracking loans.

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Board members for the state's economic development agency say they should have been allowed to participate in a recent audit that ultimately found a number of serious missteps.

The board of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. wasn't allowed to know anything about the audit until the results were released last week. Several members said Wednesday they say they can't be expected to do their jobs as board members if they're shut out from the process.

Governor Scott Walker says maybe there needs to be a tweak to the rule governing audits.

The audit was performed by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.

Democratic state Sen. Julie Lassa says she'd like to have LAB auditors address the board so the board can get a better understanding of the standards they're using.

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Governor Scott Walker is convening an emergency meeting of his flagship job-creation agency to discuss last week's scathing audit.

Walker will be in Waukesha on Wednesday meeting with the board of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

WEDC has been beset by problems in its two years of existence.

For example, a nonpartisan audit released last week found WEDC didn't consistently follow the law during its first year. The agency also failed to adequately track loans and it provided tax breaks to unqualified companies.

The hastily called meeting comes a day before separate legislative committees plan to discuss the audit. They'll also consider Walker's funding request for the agency.

This week also brought news that WEDC's newly hired spokesman resigned after questions were raised to Jim Gillespie about $36,000 in back taxes.

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5/7

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says there have been embarrassing mistakes made at the state's quasi-governmental job-creation agency, but he believes it's on the right track.

Vos on Tuesday defended work being done by the embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. in light of Democratic calls to create a special committee to ensure WEDC follows the law. A recent audit found numerous instances where WEDC didn't follow state law.

On Tuesday WKOW-TV in Madison reported that WEDC's recently hired spokesman owes $36,000 in back taxes. The spokesman resigned Monday after about a month on the job.

Vos says "there's no doubt that's an embarrassing situation,'' but he doesn't think consideration of WEDC's budget should be held up as Democrats want.

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5/7

The man hired last month to help the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. with its public image has resigned a month after he was hired.

WEDC says John Gillespie resigned Monday after WKOW-TV made inquiries about some money he apparently owes the state of Wisconsin. WKOW reports Gillespie is on the state's delinquent taxpayer list, owing about $36,000 in back taxes.

In a separate case from Outagamie County, the state Department of Workforce Development filed a warrant seeking nearly $8,000 in unemployment insurance compensation benefits he received.

Gillespie's resignation comes less than a week after a scathing state audit of WEDC. The report by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau said WEDC broke state law, failed to adequately track money it awarded for economic development projects and sometimes gave money to ineligible recipients.

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5/6

Governor Scott Walker says he hopes the board of his lead job-creation agency can meet as soon as Wednesday to discuss a scathing audit released last week that detailed numerous law violations and other problems.

Walker said Monday he wanted the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board that he chairs to meet and go over every point in the audit. The report last week by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau said WEDC broke state law, failed to adequately track money it awarded for economic development projects and sometimes gave money to ineligible recipients.

The Legislature's Audit Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the report, the same day that the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to consider Walker's funding request for the agency.

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5/2

In the wake of a stinging audit of his premier job-creation agency, Gov. Scott Walker says he's open to lawmakers' calls for a follow-up audit.

Walker was responding Thursday to an audit of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. That's the quasi-private agency that replaced the public Department of Commerce about two years ago.

The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau released a report Wednesday outlining a number of serious missteps, including failure to adequately track money and giving money to ineligible recipients.

Walker says the audit repeats a number of items that were already known. He also says some of the loans occurred before the agency was created.

He says he's asked the WEDC board to create a credit committee to review the loans, particularly the ones that are past due.

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The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau says the state's premiere economic development agency has repeatedly not followed state law, awarded money to ineligible projects, and failed to adequately monitor those who have gotten money.

Wednesday's blistering audit of the nearly two-year-old Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is leading Republican lawmakers to call for changes.

Legislative Audit Committee co-chair, Republican Sen. Rob Cowles, says the audit shows ``there is a significant disconnect between our expectations of WEDC and the reality of their performance with regard to transparency and accountability.''

WEDC's leader Reed Hall says in a letter to the Audit Bureau that significant progress is being made to address the problems found. He says many solutions are already in place or are in the process of being implemented.

 

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