As Scott Walker’s campaign for president gains steam, his record on jobs and the economy is finally getting a more thorough examination as national media shines a light on the governor’s “middling” record on job creation and his failed flagship jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
Following a campaign trip to the United Kingdom billed as a state trade mission, Reuters is taking a look at the failures at Walker’s Economic Disaster Corporation, which include the loss of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, unprecedented staff turnover, lack of accountability, and significant shortcomings on its own job creation goals.
A series of scathing audits in 2012 show Walker’s Economic Disaster Corporation lost track of $56 million worth of taxpayer funded loans and found that the agency lacked basic internal accounting controls.
From 2011 to 2013, Walker’s flagship jobs agency only managed to create 5,840 new jobs. During the same two-year period, 13,616 jobs were lost in Wisconsin due to layoffs or closures. Even after $203 million left WEDC in the form of grants, loans, and bonding authority, Wisconsin lost more than two jobs for every job gained. In December of 2013, WEDC released an annual report showing the agency fell well short of their own economic development goals despite spending $330 million on economic development initiatives, forcing them to slash economic goals for Fiscal Year 2014 by more than 50 percent.
The audits also revealed stunning levels of managerial incompetence as 56 percent of credit card purchases by the agency included no description of their purpose on expense reports. WEDC spent taxpayer funds on alcohol, iTunes gift cards, and Badgers football season tickets.
Citing economic development experts who work closely with the agency, Reuters reports that one of the reasons for the failures at WEDC is that Walker’s overhaul of the state bureaucracy drove away seasoned development workers.
Walker ran for office on a campaign promise to create 250,000 new private sector jobs in his first term; the most recent federal jobs data shows that Wisconsin has added just 158,000 private sector jobs under Scott Walker, a 6.8 percent rate of growth trailing both the national pace, at 8.4 percent, and the pace in the rest of the Midwest, at 7.1 percent.
Marc Levine, a senior fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Economic Development, told Reuters: “Essentially we’ve been surfing on the national recovery… [t]he idea was that Wisconsin policies are better than the national policies and we were going to move ahead of the national rate. That clearly hasn’t happened.”
“Scott Walker’s rise to prominence in the crowded Republican presidential field is a double-edged sword – he’s getting more attention from caucus voters in Iowa and New Hampshire but his record of failure on jobs and the economy is no longer free from scrutiny,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Monday. “By nearly every metric, Walker’s Economic Disaster Corporation has been a stunning failure that has cost Wisconsin taxpayers millions of dollars and the governor must be held accountable for it, here and on the presidential campaign trail.”