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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

 12:07 PM 

Dems, GOP praise bipartisan effort on WEDC bill

While there seems to be bipartisan agreement on a bill reforming some governance and reporting elements of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Democrats are still going to try and offer amendments that would go further on reform measures.

The bill, authored by Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, would specify certain performance measures WEDC should report, create a "Lead Director" position that would serve as a liaison between management of WEDC and the board and would set term limits on WEDC board members.

Cowles said that the bill was simply acting on the recommendations of the Legislative Audit Bureau report, which found major deficiencies in WEDC's reporting requirements and financial tracking mechanisms.

"We all hope that the agency is on the mend," Cowles said. "(WEDC) is a piece of the economic development equation, it's not the be all end all."

Democrats said they hoped this bill and the next -- which would approve a fund structure for $25 million in venture capital funds -- was a sign of bipartisanship that the state's voters had been looking for. However, they also said the problems of the organization was the board of director's lack of control over WEDC management.

That concern is the main reason behind the Dem amendments being offered, which seek to remove the governor as chair of the WEDC Board of Directors and give the board hiring and firing power over the CEO, COO and CFO. Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said that the state has to make sure the board has proper control over the public-private corporation.

"I think the audit bureau report on WEDC showed that the governing board was not always informed about what was happening with policies and practices and board members only heard about these problems in the agency months after management became aware," Lassa said.

Lassa said an amendment removing the governor as chair of the WEDC board was necessary to make sure the chair had the proper amount of time to fully devote his or her attention to WEDC. The governor, with a myriad of other responsibilities, will always have a divided attention, Lassa said.

Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, disagreed with that amendment, saying the board needed a chair who was also elected by the public in order to hold that person accountable.

So far, three amendments proposed by Cowles and the Joint Legislative Audit Committee have been approved unanimously.

UPDATE: The amendments regarding the governor's chairship was defeated on an 18-14 vote, with Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville joining the GOP on both votes. Another amendment on the executive hiring and firing power was also defeated on a 18-14 vote, with Cullen again joining the GOP.


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