IS IT SHOOT THE MESSENGER OR SOMETHING WORSE?

In case you missed it, there's a move afoot to do away with the Legislative Audit Bureau, a watchdog agency responsible for ensuring clean and effective government in Wisconsin. Knowing a bit of its history and purpose will help you understand why Republicans are now trying to get rid of it.

The Legislative Audit Bureau was created by Chapter 659, Laws of Wisconsin 1965. Prior to the creation of the Bureau, financial audits were performed by the Department of State Audit, an executive branch department created in 1947.  2007 Wisconsin Act 126 created a fraud, waste, and mismanagement hotline that allows the public and individuals within state government to report suspected fraud and other improper acts by state agencies, employees, and contractors.  (See the online information page for the Legislative Audit Bureau.)

LAB is a nonpartisan legislative service agency created to assist the Legislature in maintaining effective oversight of state operations. The Bureau conducts objective audits and evaluations of state agency operations to ensure financial transactions have been made in a legal and proper manner and to determine whether programs are administered effectively, efficiently, and in accordance with the policies of the Legislature and the Governor. The results of these evaluations are provided to the Legislature, along with recommendations for improvements in agency operations.

Audits currently in progress include:

  • Government Accountability Board Complaints (A review of complaints considered by the Government Accountability Board)
  • Wastewater Permitting (A review of certain types of permits issued by the Department of Natural Resources through the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program).
  • Employee Trust Funds (A financial audit of the Department of Employee Trust Funds, including an actuarial audit of the Wisconsin Retirement System).
  • State of Wisconsin Financial Audit (An audit of the State of Wisconsin's financial statements for fiscal year 2014-15).
  • University of Wisconsin System (A financial audit of the University of Wisconsin System for fiscal year 2014-15).

Read on for an account of what's going on and how we're going to stop it.

As a recent Grassroots North Shore article explains, LAB published a report highlighting continuing problems with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).  Rather than addressing the problems with WEDC, however, Republican legislators have instead opted to kill the messenger by drafting legislation to eliminate the LAB.  The fledgling bill states that LAB functions would instead be performed by independent inspectors general appointed by the administration and placed in state agencies.  An analysis of the bill by the Legislative Reference Bureau says the bill would allow the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader to direct the inspectors to "audit the records of any state agency or program or any county, city, village, town, or school district."

On June 10, 2015, The CapTimes reported that “Common Cause Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin [issued a joint statement in which they] called the LAB ‘a pillar of nonpartisanship and good government in Wisconsin’ and panned the proposal from state Reps. David Craig, R-Big Bend, and Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake.”

Here’s a synopsis of the Steven Elbow article:

Responding to the move, Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said, “If you thought cronyism was a problem right now, wait until this bill passes….  [LAB] may have done too good a job exposing the waste and cronyism over at WEDC, so now some legislators want to get rid of it."  About the ability of the Assembly Speaker and Senate majority leader to direct inspectors to audit local governmental entities, Rothschild said, “It’s an invitation to a statewide partisan witch hunt.”

Similar feelings were expressed by Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.

"Does anyone seriously believe that partisan-appointed inspectors general would objectively assess and evaluate agency work directed by their partisan masters? This proposal is ridiculous on its face and ought to be rejected outright by the Assembly speaker, the state Senate majority leader and the governor immediately."

Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters, said the measure would inject even more partisanship into state government by eliminating a non-partisan watchdog.  “With all the money in politics lately, the last thing we need is to lose our nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, which has no bias but simply investigates and reports the facts about how our government agencies and officials function,” she said.

Craig and Jarchow are still looking for additional legislators to sponsor this attempt to chip away at our democracy.  One can only hope that shining the bright light of truth on this shameful bill will force them to turn tail and run, just as the Republicans had to do when their “idea” to “reform” open records laws saw the light of day. 

Exercise your democratic right:  speak up loudly, intensely and frequently! Join our RAPID RESPONSE effort on this issue. We will alert you when it is time to marshal our forces to fight back and we will offer tools to help us win this one.


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