From the exploitation of prison labor during the construction of a Walmart distribution center to the Foxconn chip factory debacle, Wisconsin’s poor execution of projects involving large subsidy packages has received plenty of attention. The expansion of state subsidy spending has also coincided with the growing power of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), a privatized agency that replaced the Department of Commerce in 2011.

In response to public demand for more information about program outcomes, the WEDC started an online database of incentives and an interactive map providing information about each award recipient, how many jobs the projects aimed to create, and actual job creation outcomes.

The Department of Revenue publishes tax expenditures in a messy manner: Different files for different tax breaks are mingled with numerous revenue documents, making it difficult to meaningfully track outcomes. The presentation of tax abatement programs in the state’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Reports (ACFRs) is, however, satisfactory. At the local level, some municipalities report tax abatements in accordance with Statement No. 77, but few counties and school districts do.

The Legislative Audit Bureau is charged with auditing WEDC’s subsidy activities every two years. According to a 2017 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the focus of these biennial reviews has so far been on administrative rather than fiscal performance. Instead of suggesting the state rein in wasteful programs, the LAB has focused on how to implement these subsidies most efficiently.

Our database tracking corporate misconduct, Violation Tracker, scours 450 federal, state and local agencies in compiling resolved civil and criminal cases against companies. See the list of state agencies from which we collect information in Wisconsin.

Last Updated December 2023.

For more information, contact Jacob Whiton at [email protected].