Wisconsin Shares Commentary -- Mason is flat wrong

From the Racine JT's (here) Racine County Executive William McReynolds

Actions speak louder than words. Representative Cory Mason says he opposes child care fraud. Last week, he twice helped vote down fraud investigation funding for counties, including his own. For good measure, he refused to close loopholes in the program.

Representative Mason told fellow legislators not to give Racine County any funds to investigate child care fraud, saying, "Racine County, under the leadership of Bill McReynolds, has really failed to take full responsibility for the child care fraud that's been going on in Racine."

He's flat wrong about that; we've stepped up. But here's the real point: even if there were mistakes early on, blocking funds to Racine County only punishes county residents and hampers anti-fraud efforts. Why did he do it?

A recent Journal Times series showed that our welfare fraud investigative resources declined over time because state funding kept dwindling. In 2010, the state is giving us nothing, leaving county property taxpayers to pay the costs of investigating fraud in a state program. That's why Representative Mason's actions are as puzzling as they are troubling.

Equally troubling is his breathtaking ignorance, or disregard, of what Racine County and the Wisconsin Department of Children & Families are doing. In a Journal Times commentary last week, the sheriff, the district attorney and I announced a multi-agency county fraud task force with DCF. Our Human Services Department is hiring a seasoned investigator. Sheriff Carlson and the Racine and Mount Pleasant police departments promise investigative resources. DCF promises data and analysis, and the DA promises to prosecute provable cases.

But the commitments of the DA and three law enforcement agencies apparently aren't good enough. Representative Mason refused to give Racine County any fraud investigation funds without adequate "oversight and ... assurances that it won't just be more of the same and we'll get better fraud investigations from Journal Sentinel reporters than we will from Racine County."

But why punish Racine County taxpayers? If he thinks some part of county government won't investigate cases properly, why not direct funds elsewhere - to the Sheriff, the DA, or even DCF - where they can still help combat fraud? Don't we all want to end fraud?

And why not vote to change the child care program to close loopholes that look wrong and invite fraud? Although Representative Mason speaks of "child care fraud that's been going on in Racine," no case has been strong enough to be criminally charged. Most of what he calls fraud are practices that we all agree are unacceptable, but permitted under current rules; e.g., child care providers sending their own children to other providers, and child care provider employees caring for their own children. For months, we've told our legislators those loopholes must be closed. We've also urged a "card swipe" system to prove attendance and rules to permit quicker termination of benefits when provider infractions are discovered.

Each of those items was the subject of an amendment to the child care reform bill. They would have cost little or nothing and would have sent no extra funds to Racine County. But they would have weeded out "bad actors," strengthened the program, and helped restore public confidence. So why did Representative Mason vote against every one of them? Don't we all want to make the program accountable?

Some disputes in government seem like "inside baseball," but these facts are clear to everyone.

We're all outraged by child care fraud; but ending it requires closing loopholes and conducting sometimes expensive investigations. Representative Mason explicitly refused to help his county fund investigative resources, and he systematically voted against measures to close loopholes.

Actions speak louder than words.