Gov. Scott Walker leaves office next week, finishing his second term by posting a budget surplus for the eighth year in a row. Wisconsin ended last fiscal year with a $588.5 million surplus and will start 2018-2019 with the second-highest opening balance since 2000.
"We are leaving Wisconsin in the best financial condition in a generation," Walker announced. "This is part of our legacy and it will continue to drive Wisconsin forward."
Walker, who had not previously discussed publicly what he planned to do after leaving office, said Tuesday he would join a speaking tour across the country and "focus on new methods to articulate a conservative message."
Walker's legacy includes cutting Wisconsin residents' taxes by $8 billion and reducing the collective bargaining rights of government workers.
Walker also signed his last key pieces of legislation last month, one of which included provisions to help corporations receiving awards from the state’s economic development corporation.
The governor created the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in 2011 as a public-private agency. Revisions to how grants are awarded to companies applying for tax credits or other financial incentives were included in a wide-ranging package of legislation that addressed voting guidelines and the powers of the executive branch.
The legislation signed into law limited early in-person voting to the two weeks prior to Election Day, eliminated the state Justice Department’s solicitor general office, and stipulated guidelines about the executive branch’s ability to engage in or withdraw from lawsuits involving the state without input from the Legislature.
"Despite all the hype and hysteria out there, these bills do nothing to fundamentally diminish executive authority," Walker said in a statement. "The bottom line is the new governor will continue to be one of the most powerful chief executives in the country. This includes veto and line-item veto powers; appointing members of the cabinet and other government posts including judges, district attorneys, and sheriffs; broad executive order authority; administrative rule authority; issuing a state budget proposal; and more.
"My criteria when evaluating these bills were simple: Do they improve transparency? Do they increase accountability? Do they affirm stability? And do they protect the taxpayers? The answer is yes."
Current law requires the WEDC to annually verify payroll and employment data from tax credit recipients to make sure they’re creating enough jobs to qualify for the program.
The requirements stipulate that a third party must verify a sampling of the information and that recipients submit a signed statement to WEDC attesting to the accuracy of the information submitted.
WEDC’s chief executive officer, Mark Hogan, told reporters that the agency does not have the resources to verify information about everyone employed by the state’s roughly 300 credit recipients. For years, the agency has verified information provided through data samples; the bill codifies the existing practice into law.
"You’re never going to be able to independently verify over 200,000 employees," Hogan said. "It’s a process that cannot work. The only solution was to change the statutes to codify what we’re doing."
The WEDC has been asking the Legislature to change the law for several years.
In June, Foxconn Technology Group broke ground for Phase 1 of Area 1 of the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park in Mount Pleasant – a $10 billion investment to the region.
The WEDC announced this month the City of Brillion received a $500,000 grant to help finance demolition work on the former Brillion Iron Works site.
It also recently announced five Main Street businesses from around the state that were named finalists in WEDC’s annual Main Street Makeover Contest. The recipients have a chance to win up to $10,000 toward upgrading their storefronts.
"Under Republican control, the WEDC has been plagued by scandals, mismanagement and under-performance," Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement. "The last thing that agency needs is less accountability measures."
A May 2017 audit found that the agency did not require recipients to provide enough information that showed how many jobs were created or retained as a result of the state’s financial incentive.