Wednesday, May 20, 2015

And now....back to WEDC trying to hide more stuff

Yes, that K-12 education bill has gotten us a bit off-track, because it's so regressive and was done in such a sneaky, underhanded fashion. But let's not forget what's coming up tomorrow, and that's the Joint Finance Committee's discussion of WEDC's budget.

And while Gov Walker is claiming that now wants to change the $55 million grant/regional loan program that's in the WEDC budget, let's keep our eyes on the JFC to see if they actually follow through with it. You may remember that proposal for also having this great passage.
7. As noted, details of the program have not been developed and it is unknown what the structure or composition of the regional organizations would be under the program or how specifically those dollars would have to be disbursed in the region. The bill would require WEDC to approve the structure, regional investment strategy, and administrative guidelines of the regional loan funds for each regional organization. In addition, each regional organization would have to make a report to WEDC, as would be required by the Corporation.
Yes, let's trust WEDC and their Board to come up with a fair strategy, and to make these companies follow through on their reporting requirements. On second thought, let's not, and if the GOPs on the JFC have an ounce of decency, this $55 million will be banished out of the budget entirely. We'll see if they do it.

Here's another item in tomorrow's meeting that hasn't gotten as much attention- where WEDC is trying to shield itself from certain Open Records laws. WEDC operates an information sharing system called the In Force Network, where WEDC workers, corporates, and other oligarchs trade information and other "development opportunities," and they don't want the casual citizen to find out what's been discussed, claiming that it's the equivalent of a closed office door. Of course, once the heat started rising on WEDC's shadiness, the Walker Administration did some serious backtracking, as you'll see in the second paragraph.
3. WEDC states that proprietary information of users on the In Force Network is confidential if the user is working with a company on a project, unless the information is shared with a partner or a WEDC employee. All state agencies and authorities may withhold records or documents from public access by applying a balancing test to determine if public interests favoring secrecy outweighs those favoring disclosure. The Corporation has raised concerns that, while its current policies retain confidentiality for information stored on the In Force Network, its current statutory exemption from the open records law does not include an exemption for personal or financial information stored by its users on the network. In response to programmatic audits performed by the Legislative Audit Bureau, WEDC collects detailed data from companies that receive awards, including personnel and payroll data. WEDC states that certain businesses that would otherwise apply for grants, loans, and tax credits offered by the Corporation do not feel comfortable with the possibility of subjecting their company's records, or their personal finances, to the state open records law and choose not to participate in economic development programs offered by the Corporation. The administration has requested the proposed statutory exemption from the open records law for information stored on the In Force Network to address these concerns.

4. On April 13, 2015, the administration sent a letter to the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Finance requesting a number of modifications to the bill to address drafting errors and to clarify the Governor's intent. In that letter, the administration requested a modification to clarify the Governor's intent by deleting the recommended exemption from the open records law for records consisting of information on the In Force Network, or other similar CRM maintained by WEDC, unless the information is published to the In Force Network or other system by the Corporation or another economic development organization. Instead, the administration requested an exemption from the open records law for all information on the In Force Network, or other CRM maintained by the Corporation, that is stored to that network/system, including any state authority or state agency, federal or local governmental unit, or economic development organization. Additionally the person storing information to the network/system would remain the custodian of the information while it is in the custody of WEDC. Access to information stored on the network/system would be determined by the custodian of that information in accordance with state law.

5. The Committee could choose to modify the bill, as recommended by the administration, to more accurately reflect the Governor's intent. Under this alternative, a person would remain the custodian of any information that the person stored on the In Force Network or similar CRM maintained by WEDC and anything stored by that person on the network/system would become exempt from the state open records law. It is unclear to what extent information stored by a person on the network/system, and what types of information, might become exempt from public inspection under this provision as compared to current law.
Yeah, I'm not quite trusting these guys, especially when it's taxpayer dollars and write-offs that are being used as the bait for many of these companies to relocate and/or expand. Given the issues that have developed with WEDC in recent weeks, I'm guessing more shelter from oversight and accountability isn't the way to go.

And the third paper on WEDC also allows for looser regulations on WEDC grant recipients. I touched on this in an earlier post, but I'll reiterate a couple of passages here.
1. The budget bill would increase from $100,000 to $500,000 the threshold for when a grant or loan recipient must engage a CPA to determine whether the funds were expended in accordance with the grant or loan contract. WEDC has stated that the current threshold can be costly for persons receiving awards of less than $500,000 as compared to the benefit received by the recipient. According to WEDC, the typical cost of obtaining a schedule of expenditures from a CPA is $5,000, which would represent 5% of a $100,000 grant or loan award....

6. The bill would no longer require recipients of WEDC grants or loans to submit a schedule of expenditures of the grant or loan funds, which currently must include expenditures of any matching cash or in-kind match, signed by the director or principal officer of the recipient to attest to the accuracy of the schedule of expenditures. The Corporation indicates that a schedule of expenditures would still be created by an independent CPA on behalf of the recipient in order to attest to the accuracy of the expenditures; however, the recipient would no longer have to submit the schedule to WEDC.
The paper goes on to say that this would have exempted 44% of WEDC's grants in 2013-14. These provisions are also a nice way for the Walker Administration to take care of the "problem" of a lack of oversight of WEDC loans and grants- they'll simply remove the reporting requirements!

I fully expect the Dems to destroy the Walker Administration tomorrow as these items come up, and reiterate their calls for an emergency meeting to go along with their requested federal investigation. But the real story will be to see if the GOPs on the Joint Finance Committee are also angered and/or feeling the heat from these WEDC scandals, and decide not to allow the Walker boys to allow this slush fund hide any additional information. And we'll see if they finally pull the plug on an agency that has seemed to accomplish nothing other than to funnel taxpayer dollars to Walker donors, with any growth or business improvement being a mere accident.

EDIT- Mr. Unintimidated backtrack on the Open Records exemptions as well. These guys are really running scared right now, aren't they?

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