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UPDATE: Commerce Department Reorganization Criticized

By: Zac Schultz Email
By: Zac Schultz Email

UPDATED Wednesday, February 9, 2011 --- 1:00 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a measure that will replace public employees at the Department of Commerce with private workers in a dramatic reorganization of the agency.

The new Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will be a public-private hybrid in charge of attracting and retaining businesses in the state.

Existing regulatory duties of the Commerce Department will be moved elsewhere in state government.

Walker said at Wednesday's bill signing that the new law sends a strong message that state government will be working closely with private economic development interests.

The reorganization will take effect sometime after July 1.

Even though workers will now be private, they will be eligible for the state retirement system and health benefits.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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UPDATED Thursday, February 3, 2011 --- 7:30 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Wisconsin state Senate has passed a bill that would reorganize the state Commerce Department into a public-private hybrid.

Gov. Scott Walker has argued for changing the makeup of the department to place the regulatory functions of the agency elsewhere and leave the new corporation created free to focus exclusively on economic development. He sees it as being key to fulfilling his promise to create 250,000 jobs.

The new Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation would be compromised of private workers, not state employees.

That idea has drawn criticism from union leaders and Democrats who say the jobs could be filled with political cronies of the governor and members of the corporation's board.

The bill passed 21-10 Wednesday. The Assembly was expected to pass it later Wednesday.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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UPDATED Wednesday, February 2, 2011 --- 4:55 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to pass a proposal that would reorganize the state Commerce Department into a public-private hybrid.

The Legislature is also expected to pass a bill Wednesday that would clear the way for a developer to fill in a wetland near Lambeau Field.

Both of the bills are being pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The Assembly is also scheduled to vote on a bill that would roll back higher automobile insurance coverage requirements approved in 2009 by the Legislature when it was controlled by Democrats. The Assembly is also taking up a proposal that would give the governor more power in the state agency rule-making process.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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UPDATED Thursday, January 13, 2011 --- 11:08 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to partially privatize the state Commerce Department is drawing derision from critics who say it will weaken accountability, increase risks for conflicts of interests and not improve economic development in Wisconsin.

The measure would replace the current Commerce Department with a public-private hybrid composed not of unionized state employees but of private workers.

Philip Mattera with the Washington-based watchdog group Good Jobs First said Thursday that similar models in seven other states have a poor track record. He spoke at a news conference before a public hearing on the measure.

Bryan Kennedy, president of union AFT-Wisconsin, says the measure should be amended to give the Legislature oversight of its activities.

Of the 341 state employees currently working for commerce, 266 of them belong to a union.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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UPDATED Thursday, January 13, 2011 --- 7:20 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to partially privatize the state Commerce Department is getting its first public airing.

An Assembly committee is scheduled to take comments on the measure Thursday. Groups opposed to replace unionized state workers with private employees plan to speak out against it before the hearing.

Also on Thursday, four other Walker proposals to cut taxes and make more money available in economic incentives were up for votes in legislative committees. The Senate and Assembly were expected to take up the measures next week.

Walker says he supports changing one measure from a tax break to small companies to a credit of $1,000 for every job created, regardless of the company size.

He wants to reorganize the Commerce Department into a public-private hybrid focused on job creation.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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UPDATED Tuesday, January 11, 2011 --- 1:45 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker says the "vast majority" of the 340 state Commerce Department workers will remain with the agency under his proposal to transform it into a public-private hybrid.

However, those who remain with the renamed Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will not be public employees.

Walker said Tuesday that Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin spoke to employees at the agency on Monday and assured them that the majority will be transferred to the new agency "presuming they're doing a good job."

Union leaders and Democrats have questioned whether Walker can summarily replace current state employees with private workers.

Walker says Jadin outlined the process by which the workers could transfer over to the new agency.

The Legislature would have to approve Walker's plan before it takes effect.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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UPDATED Thursday, January 6, 2011 --- 1:10 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The new hybrid public-private entity that Gov. Scott Walker wants to replace the state Commerce Department would not include any state employees.

The proposal Walker released Thursday makes clear that no one working at the proposed Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation would be a state employee. They would be given the option of participating in the state retirement system.

Currently, of the 341 people working in the Commerce Department, 266 are members of a state employees union. Walker wants to move regulatory functions of the department to other state agencies.

It wasn't immediately clear how many private employees there would be at the new hybrid agency. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said last week that they didn't anticipate overall employment levels to differ much from where they are now.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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Posted Tuesday, December 28, 2010 -- 4:10pm
By Zac Schultz

Madison: Governor-elect Scott Walker has long said as soon as he's sworn in he wants the legislature to start work on a package of laws that will jump start the economy.

Tuesday he announced that package will include the elimination of the Department of Commerce. In its place he will create the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which will have one focus. "Helping existing companies retain and grow jobs here as well as attracting employers from outside of our borders to create more jobs here in the state of Wisconsin," says Walker.

The WEDC will have a 12 member board of directors, including the Governor and 11 of his appointees. "Their charge is saying, here's how much the state's got on the table, here's how much potentially is coming from the private sector, we need a long term strategic plan, we need a strategic plan over the next couple of years about how to maximize those dollars to attract the most jobs possible."

That's pretty much the job description of the current Department of Commerce. Walker's plan will change the name and remove the ability to regulate commerce. "Those will be completely removed and put into other state agencies so that this new economic development corporation's sole focus will be on promoting commerce, not in regulating it, not on confusing it."

No one at the Department of Commerce would go on camera today, but in the past they've pointed to success stories like keeping Harley Davidson and Mercury Marine in Wisconsin. Governor-elect Walker says his corporation would have handled those situations differently. "In some cases they get involved sooner."


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