By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
But it happened Thursday at the Capitol after Jorgensen and Rep. Scott Krug, R – Rome, discussed a pair of bi-partisan bills, legislation they say is aimed at helping manufacturers in Wisconsin.
A fellow lawmaker sees the package proposals as a sweetheart deal to the trade association, which would benefit to the tune of $1 million in taxpayer money.
Krug’s bill directs the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to organize trade shows. Jorgensen’s bill directs WEDC to grant $1 million over four years to “an association that represents manufacturers in this state.”
The group, Tool Die and Machining Association of Wisconsin, according to Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, would create an Internet site, market and man WEDC trade shows and others throughout the country at taxpayer expense.
“With these simple, straightforward and pennywise bills, we can find new clients for Wisconsin companies and in turn generate more good paying jobs,” said Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, sitting next to Krug in Vos’ office prior to the Legislature’s passage of the bill. “With these plans we are taking an important step toward economic stability and strength, and again we are taking this step together.”
That’s one small step for economic development, one giant leap for bipartisan showmanship, said Nass.
“I don’t think it’s going to produce any jobs at all, but it does give the appearance to the public that we are doing something for jobs.” Nass told Wisconsin Reporter. “Bipartisanship is one of the things both sides are anxious to show, but that’s basically it. It’s show.”
The bills shuffle around funds WEDC already has for other programs, something the quasi-public development group says “may have a negative impact on WEDC’s direct aids to businesses,” according to a fiscal estimate.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Association, the organization that helped develop WEDC, lobbied against the bill.
“Simply put, (the bills) go in the wrong direction at a time when the Administration and Legislature are looking at ways to streamline the regulatory process and promote economic development,” wrote WEDA president Carol Karls in a letter to state legislators.
Nass contends the bills are duplicative, directing WEDC to do things it can already do and are being done by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
WEDC spokesman Tom Thieding said WEDC does trade shows such as the upcoming bio-tech BioForward in Chicago in April and the Manufacturing Matters this week in Milwaukee.
Jorgensen did not respond to Wisconsin Reporter’s requests for comment.
Jorgensen has said he has pushed what he calls the “Marketing Manufacturers and Keeping Employees” program, which includes both his and Krug’s bills, since 2009. He just hasn’t had the backing until this session.
Nass says no manufacturers or manufacturing associations have contacted him in three years about the supposed need for taxpayer-funded marketing efforts.
The Tool Die and Machining Association of Wisconsin is the only lobbyist to register in support of the bill.
Association officials did not return calls from Wisconsin Reporter.
“The author of (the bill) … admits he has consulted with only one manufacturing trade group regarding this proposal: the Tool Die and Machining Association of Wisconsin,” Nass said in a statement. “Over the last three years why did the author fail to include more groups in the development of this legislation?”
“I fear this bill is really about earmarking $1 million to one trade group and not about the benefits of marketing for manufacturers,” he said, adding that the “skids have been greased.”
Several of the association’s newsletters over the past three years reference Jorgensen’s MMAKE legislation. Jim Brey, president of Atzalan Engineering, Inc., a member of the Tool Die association, joined Jorgensen for the news conference before the floor vote.
The association has contributed to Jorgensen’s campaign.
Chet Gerlach, lobbyist for the organization, cut a check for $100 in September 2008. Brey contributed $250 in June 2010.
Nass contends the trade association could push its member’s products, leaving out other manufacturers in the state. He asks why the bill doesn’t set up competitive bids for smaller-sized grants based on merit, rather than a one-shot deal to one not-for-profit association.
The bill also sets no limits for the marketing employee salaries or fringe benefits, administrative costs or office equipment. Salaries and fringe benefits for two employees alone could eat up much of the first $250,000 installment before any marketing is done.
“Time will tell if I’m right on this,” Nass said. “But by that time, it will be too late.”
Contact Ryan Ekvall at firstname.lastname@example.org