(The Center Square) – Lawmakers in Madison are taking the first steps toward fixing Wisconsin’s failed unemployment system, but there’s some disagreement over how to do it.

The Joint Finance Committee, which serves as the state’s budget writing panel, on Wednesday approved a measure that asks outside companies to bid on contracts to fix the outdated computer system at the Department of Workforce Development.

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said there is a danger in offering $80 million for a fix, without offering a list of what Wisconsin expects in return.

“This is basically an $80 million blank check to figure out something for the IT system,” Born said.

The true price tag for updating DWD’s computers could be $80 million. But lawmakers say it could also be as low as $45 million. That is why Republicans on the JFC want to request proposals from companies.

“We’re basically dangling $80 million out there and just waiting for someone to nab it,” Sen. Howard Marlein, R-Spring Green, added. “And having served in the military, trust me there are contractors out there who if you set a target, they will hit that target.”

Democrats don’t want to wait. They want the state to move ahead immediately.

“The headline should be ‘The legislature acted to fix this problem, and modernize the UI system.’” Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee said. “Without [our] amendment, the headline will read ‘The legislature agrees to have more meetings about whether or not they should actually fund the fix to this unemployment compensation system.’”

Gov. Evers has consistently blamed the computer system at DWD for the months-long delay that left thousands of people in Wisconsin waiting for months to have their unemployment claims processed or paid. The system is decades old, and requires unique care and operation.

While the computer system is old, a recent audit found that DWD workers are to blame for much of the delay. The Legislative Audit Bureau reported back in December that DWD employees didn’t do the follow-up work to complete claims, or didn’t process the information they already had to ensure that people were paid.

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.