Home / News / Expresso / Issue of the Week: Walker’s Plan to Privatize the Commerce Department
Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

Issue of the Week: Walker’s Plan to Privatize the Commerce Department

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Businesses create jobs, not the government, right?

That’s why Gov. Scott Walker wants to turn the state Commerce Department into a public-private corporation with private-sector leadership and “private-sector jobs” paid with $82 million from the public.

Doesn’t that concept sound familiar?

It should.

In fact, Wisconsin had tried to create this sort of public-private business-boosting entity once before: Forward Wisconsin, which was created in 1984 to recruit businesses to the state. That lasted until 2007 and had a dubious record of accomplishments, when the Department of Commerce finally took it over.

What’s fascinating about Forward Wisconsin is that, according to a new study by Good Jobs First, business executives stated that the agency didn’t affect their decision to invest in the state. Nor was it free of scandal. Then-Gov. Scott McCallum had to pay a $500 fine because he’d used a boat provided by Mercury Marine in 2001.

Forward Wisconsin’s experience is typical of these public-private business agencies, the study found. Similar agencies in other states have been found to mishandle taxpayer funds, provide perks to spouses, grant huge bonuses to executives that are more in line with private-sector compensation than state employee pay, have conflicts of interest and award subsidies that don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Walker has provided few details about his new Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC). We do know that the board would be unaccountable to the public, would have unlimited bonding authority and would pay Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin for his work at the same time he’s drawing a state salary. We think the voters deserve more information about how Walker plans to invest taxpayer money in private businesses.

“I cannot imagine that taxpayers who have protested loudly against government bailouts, such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), will want to see their state government giving unelected leaders, each with their own business interests, unaccountable, free reign over an $82 million blank check,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said in a statement.

We agree. Any entity that uses taxpayer money must be transparent, accountable to the public and have a clear mission statement. Walker’s WEDC is lacking on all of those elements.

Heroes of the Week

St. Aemilian-Lakeside Treatment Foster Parents

Foster parenting is one of the most challenging and rewarding activities a couple or individual can ever undertake, especially for treatment foster parents, who open their lives and homes to children with emotional, behavioral or developmental challenges.

Since 1850, St. Aemilian-Lakeside (8901 W. Capitol Drive) has provided a multitude of programs to meet the needs of families and children. The staff of professional social workers at St. Aemilian carefully screens, trains and supports individuals willing to provide a nurturing home environment for children in need.

While St. Aemilian is always eager to hear from prospective foster parents, there is also a need for those who wish to mentor or tutor area youth experiencing difficult times. To learn more about how you can volunteer to make a positive difference in the community, call St. Aemilian-Lakeside at 414-463-1880 or visit www.st-al.org.

Jerk of the Week

WISN-AM 1130’s Mark Belling

Looks like someone’s feeling lonely and more and more irrelevant. Conservative radio talker Mark Belling typically resorts to ethnic slurs when he needs to pump up his ratings and feel important. Belling was at it again last week, this time about the proposed Marriott in downtown Milwaukee. Belling claimed that Jews were behind the opposition to the proposed hotel development, then immediately retreated from his comments, saying, “The fact that the majority of them are Jewish may be neither here nor there.” Belling knows exactly what he’s doing—he lashes out at his target in the most outrageous way to drive up his ratings, and then plays the victim when he gets called out on it. We’re not buying it.