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Lawmakers call for hearings on stimulus spending (UPDATE)

By Paul Snyder

Two Wisconsin lawmakers, skeptical of claims about jobs created by federal stimulus money, are calling for public hearings on how the state is spending its share of the stimulus.

State Rep. Rich Zipperer, R-Pewaukee, and state Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, said they are not satisfied with the job creation and retention numbers Wisconsin gave the federal government last month.

“This is the largest amount of federal money ever to come to Wisconsin, and we want to know how quickly it’s going to work and how accurate and what methodology is being used to report it,” Montgomery said. “Depending on what you hear, it’s created or saved anywhere from 8,100 to 20,000 jobs. We need it put into context.”

Neither of the Joint Committee on Finance’s two chairmen — state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and state Rep. Mark Miller, D-Monona — was available to comment on whether a hearing would be scheduled.

But another committee member, state Rep. Pedro Colon, D-Milwaukee, said he thinks the committee is reviewing spending.

“We’re the ones ultimately approving the projects as they come through,” he said. “We ask the agencies to submit reports on the projects before we approve them, and from my perspective we all want the same goal — to get projects moving and jobs out there.”

Colon said the Legislative Fiscal Bureau is working on a report of Wisconsin’s stimulus spending.

“We should look that it has been awarded and properly spent,” Colon said of the money. “I don’t disagree with that.”

Zipperer cited media reports that the totals filed with the federal government were inaccurate.

The Joint Committee on Finance reviews stimulus spending, he said, but only the money going out the door, not the results.

Montgomery said federal officials and the state’s Office of Recovery and Reinvestment have noticed errors in reporting.

“If our goal is transparency and accuracy, wouldn’t it be nice to have a detailed analysis?” Montgomery said. “I’m just saying we should know about the process. If it’s a good story, great. If it’s a bad story, then we need to fix it.”

Calls to the Wisconsin Office of Recovery and Reinvestment were not returned.

But state Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, said the state is working on recalculating the numbers and should have new results in January.

“At that point, we can see if the numbers still reflect mistakes and inaccuracies,” he said. “People in Congress have said there were mistakes because people were dealing with these forms for the first time and had not experienced something of this magnitude.”

Molepske, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Jobs, the Economy and Small Business, said he would not have his committee hold a hearing before the new numbers become available.

If there are mistakes, they need to be rectified, Colon said. But the state also needs time to work through its reporting.

“I’m not saying the process is infallible,” he said. “It’s just that it was under the gun. The economy’s out of whack and we had to move to get these jobs going. Now that we’ve got a little time, let’s look at how this is being spent.”

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