In the past eleven years, I wrote 64 times about the problems of speed and secrecy in the legislative process. However, I never saw a calendar as broad and deep in controversy as the most recent one before the State Senate.
For weeks, we heard that the Senate would vote a hodge-podge of highly controversial bills. “Horrid,” one staffer called the expected Senate Calendar. None of us, including the public, knew what bills would come up for a vote.
The cloak of secrecy raised a bit on Friday when we received the tentative list of bills. But even the day before the vote, we did not have the official bill materials and were scrambling to get details.
“We have not been able to verify the jobs,” said Secretary Mark Hogan at a recent public hearing of the Joint Committee on Audit.
In this statement, the head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) confirmed what several years of audits repeatedly found: our state awarded hundreds of millions in tax credits and cash payments to companies to create jobs without ever checking to see if jobs were actually created.
WEDC is the state agency overseeing economic development efforts. They hand out tax credits and cash payments to corporations to create and retain jobs. WEDC writes contracts for companies to receive state money. When a company abides by the contract, it receives a payment, a certificate for a tax break, or their loan is forgiven.
“Can you find out the nuclear flaw in the Foxconn deal?” a woman asked me. She was referring to words leaked out of secret negotiations between the state and a Taiwanese billionaire.
Lawmakers, who recently voted in favor of the Foxconn deal, did so without seeing any contract. They put faith in a state operation known as Wisconsin Economic Development (WEDC).
For 130 years, Wisconsin provided care for our aging veterans. Our state committed resources to build a beautiful campus on the Chain O’ Lakes. Known as the Veterans Home at King, the home gives veterans and their families a picturesque retirement.
Recently, stories leaked out from King that all was not well. Delayed maintenance, slipping quality of care, and management decisions, in the name of cost cutting, took away amenities central to veterans’ quality of life. Impersonal vending machines replaced the coffee shop stocked with home baked goods.
Concerned, Audit Committee members directed the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to investigate. Recently, the Audit Committee held a public hearing to examine the LAB’s reports and plan future action.
Among many findings, auditors uncovered serious problems with short staffing and low staff morale. During the study period, auditors found overtime worked by staff was equivalent to hiring over 70 additional full-time staff. Staff were subject to mandatory overtime rules. High turnover especially hit part-time staff.