Walker’s agency may have given millions in unearned credits

Louis Weisberg

Millions of dollars disappeared from Gov. Scott Walker’s embattled job creation agency and millions more were awarded to companies, many of them Walker supporters, that never followed through on creating new jobs. In fact, many of them shipped jobs out of Wisconsin.

Now a new review shows the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which Walker no longer helms, erroneously awarded more than $412,000 in tax credits to companies over how many jobs they created. But that’s just how much that’s been identified thus far. The final total could be in the millions, the review showed.

The WEDC revealed the tax credit issue at a board meeting earlier this spring, when it reported it was checking on discrepancies in credits awarded and actual jobs created.

But the new report was the first time the size of the problem was detailed.

The investigation was prompted by an investigative report last fall that revealed the WEDC exceeded its authority and improperly awarded more than $21 million in taxpayer funding, much of it to Walker’s campaign contributors

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in late May that the agency is reviewing 222 tax credits awarded since 2006 over the way jobs were counted. Based on 18 awards checked thus far, there was more than $448,000 in over-awarded credits. About $36,000 was under-awarded.

With so many more credits to check, the overage may go significantly higher. WEDC chief executive Mark Hogan declined to give an estimate to a board committee. Hogan said the agency might try to recoup any excess credits by reducing the amount of tax credits that have yet to be verified.

The committee discussed the issue in open session before moving into closed session for further talks about the tax credit problem.

WEDC has been plagued by years of scandal. Last year, it handed out $90 million in awards — much more than the previous year — but created even fewer jobs, according to its own annual report.

At the time, Democratic lawmakers on the WEDC board repeated a call for replacing the agency with a new public entity.

“I am deeply concerned that taxpayers are not getting the needed bang for their buck at WEDC,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said in a statement at the time.

During his first campaign, Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs during his first term in office — a number he still hasn’t come close to attaining after nearly six years. WEDC was purportedly created to fulfill that promise.

AP contributed to this report.