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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

 2:34 PM 

Senate backs Commerce overhaul

The Senate voted 21-10 today to approve the guv’s overhaul of the Commerce Department over Dem complaints the entity that would replace it lacks needed details that would provide accountability and transparency.

The legislation next goes to the state Assembly.

Republicans turned back a series of Dem amendments that supporters said were intended to create more accountability with the new agency.

Though the legislation establishes the WEDC, various details of how it will operate remain to be worked out in the state budget.

Some of the amendments included requirements that the WEDC report in which communities it funded projects and requiring those who serve on the board to file ethics reports to ensure there are no conflicts of interest. Dems charged the legislation created too few details considering the taxpayer money that would soon head its way.

“There are no details,” complained Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. “There’s no accountability in this legislation. It’s just this new entity with $87 million dollars.”

But Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, cautioned some of the Dem amendments represented a worst-case scenario for the agency if lawmakers are allowed to stifle it with a series of requirements to hand out grants to certain projects or businesses that they deem desirable.

“We’re going to have to be on the ball to make sure this is not what becomes of this agency, that we prefer a free market approach that the best, most successful businesses are helped, not somebody who has a political connection,” Grothman said.

GOP leaders negotiated several changes to the bill to give them more oversight of the agency, including giving themselves six appointments to board overseeing the new entity. The guv would chair the board and have six appointments, while leggie leaders would get six appointments, including four lawmakers.

But Dem Sen. Tim Cullen argued the board should be changed back to its original form in which the guv appoints all of the board members.

“They (lawmakers) bring a political input to the board, which I think all of us really don’t want to have happen,” Cullen said.

Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Oshkosh, said he agreed with Cullen that lawmakers did not belong on the board and should not be allowed to interfere with economic development decisions. But he moved to table the amendment anyway, and it was shelved.


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