From the protests surrounding the exploitation of inmates in the construction of a Walmart distribution center to the Foxconn chip factory debacle, Wisconsin’s poor execution of projects involving large sums of controversies has gotten lots of ink. As the scope of the state’s subsidy programs got repeatedly expanded by the legislature, so did the power of the privatized agency, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which replaced the Department of Commerce in 2011.
In response to public demand for more information about program outcomes, the WEDC launched an online database of incentives and an interactive map which provides information about each recipient and how many jobs the projects aim to create and end up creating.
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 much more satisfactory. At the local level, some municipalities report tax abatements in accordance with Statement No. 77, but few counties and school districts do (in fiscal year 2019, just one school district reported).
The Legislative Audit Bureau is charged with auditing WEDC’s subsidy activities every two years. According to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, so far the focus of these biennial reviews has been on the administrative aspects rather than the economic/fiscal impacts and performance. Instead of recommendations on curbing some of the more wasteful subsidies, what the public got were lackluster suggestions for how to implement these subsidies more efficiently.