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GOP plots revenge on Legislative Audit Bureau, taxpayers will pay for it

[UPDATED at 3:40 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10, to add Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' position.]

The cheap thrill of retaliation has no place among elected officials who are paid to serve the public, not their egos. But some of Wisconsin’s Republican leaders are on a payback binge that’s noteworthy for the sweeping changes it will make to the nature of democracy in the state and the irreparable harm it will wreak on our quality of life.

The most disturbing recent Republican attack is on the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau, which has provided citizens and lawmakers alike with honest, reliable investigations of waste, fraud, abuse, inefficiencies, and cronyism in state government since 1966. Unsurprisingly, in doing so, the bureau has fallen into disfavor with Gov. Scott Walker and some of his supporters.

A series of LAB and external audits have found that Walker’s much-touted “job creation” agency — the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation — lost track of $56 million worth of taxpayer-funded loans, lacked basic internal accounting controls and was staffed by unqualified Walker cronies.  LAB also found, among other shocking problems, that WEDC had written off more than $7.6 million in loans, including a $500,000 loan to an unqualified company owned by a major Walker donor.

Auditors discovered that WEDC didn’t even require the beneficiaries of its largesse to create jobs in Wisconsin and didn’t track the results of the loans that it made.

So now, in typical Walker fashion, he and his colleagues want to eliminate the bipartisan, fact-finding bureau and instead empower the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader — in other words, partisan leaders — to appoint investigators at their discretion. There’s nothing to compel those leaders to launch fair, impartial investigations that might harm their interests.

Aside from investigating WEDC, the bureau has conducted numerous other audits that have provided lawmakers with information that’s critical to budget planning and policy-making decisions.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he will never support eliminating the LAB, and we urge readers to contact him directly and support his stance — and to hold him to it.

Besides eliminating the LAB, Walker and legislative Republicans have also decided to fire scientists from the Department of Natural Resources who worked on issues related to climate change, pollution and mining. The GOP has been out to get the state’s environmental scientists ever since they refused to automatically green-light an iron ore pit mine in northern Wisconsin that could have devastated the area’s watershed and polluted Lake Superior.

Walker was humiliated over DNR scientists’ insistence on researching the consequences of the mine, because the mining company that proposed the project had given him $700,000. He’d empowered representatives of the company to rewrite the state’s mining regulations so the project could move forward.

There are numerous other examples of Walker dishing out payback lessons, possibly including his elimination of state funding for the Wisconsin Transportation Alternatives Program, which supported projects for cycling and walking paths. He also floated the idea of imposing a tax on bike sales to pay for bike lanes on roadways.

Both actions were seen as retaliation against his 2014 Democratic gubernatorial opponent Mary Burke, whose family owns Trek Bicycle.  That might sound too petty to be true, but sadly it’s not. Apparently, nothing is.

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