Rep. Barca Urges WEDC to Immediately Adopt Stronger Taxpayer Safeguards
Awards Committee Will Vote Monday on Rep. Barca Proposal to Require Legal Check Prior to Awarding Taxpayer Assistance
MADISON – Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) today urged the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to immediately strengthen taxpayer safeguards by requiring that WEDC perform a background check of the applicant’s current legal actions before awarding a contract. Rep. Barca called for the change following media investigations that revealed at least two companies receiving significant financial awards were facing serious legal and financial troubles that should have been detected.
“These basic background check procedures should have been in place since the start of WEDC and instead, our state has given out taxpayer funds to companies and individuals with questionable criminal and financial backgrounds,” Rep. Barca said. “I was extremely disappointed that the WEDC board deferred action on this vital proposal, considering that millions of taxpayer dollars have probably been lost due to this lack of due diligence on the part of the WEDC senior officials. Therefore, I am calling on the award committee and executive committee to take immediate action to put this important taxpayer protection in place.”
The policy recommendation is the latest from Rep. Barca and Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point), who serve as legislative representatives on the WEDC Board of Directors. At the most recent WEDC board meeting on July 20, Rep. Barca and Sen. Lassa introduced two motions to address major issues at WEDC. This motion would “require WEDC staff to verify if a potential award recipient has any pending or recent legal action prior to the execution of a contract.” The WEDC board deferred action on the motion to the WEDC awards committee, which will meet Monday to discuss the policy.
Sen. Gudex and Rep. Hutton recently circulated a proposal to remove all legislators from the WEDC Board of Directors. The move would pull a veil of secrecy over an agency that has badly mismanaged taxpayer funds and consistently fails to follow state laws. As board members, Rep. Barca and Sen. Lassa have continuously worked to put in place processes so WEDC can better serve entrepreneurs, workers and businesses while protecting taxpayers. This recent motion is an example of the numerous improvements Sen. Lassa and Rep. Barca have proposed to improve WEDC’s practices.
The background check proposal follows a series of media investigations that discovered that WEDC gave financial assistance to deeply troubled firms and business owners, including Building Commission Inc. and GreenBox. If Rep. Barca’s proposal had been in place at the onset of WEDC it is unlikely that taxpayer funds would have been put at risk through these projects that put hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk and created no jobs.
“The last thing WEDC needs is less oversight and accountability,” Rep. Barca added. “I encourage WEDC’s award committee to accept and immediately implement this proposal to protect Wisconsin taxpayers. Given the many issues that remain at WEDC, it is more critical than ever that legislators are able to remain on the WEDC board to continue applying pressure and providing solutions to WEDC’s many problems.”
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