SB 474: Public deserves to know how money is spent

Not so long ago, West Virginia Auditor J.B.McCuskey garnered praise for plans to launch a new program that would give all residents the ability to monitor state spending.

“Part of the auditor’s job, in my opinion, and it is part of my duty to ensure that every citizen has access to how their money is being spent. The money that comes into the Capitol is never the government’s money. It’s always the people’s money,” McCuskey said at the time.

Lawmakers appear to have been frightened by the idea of the public knowing how its money is being spent.

So, quickly and quietly, and with an attempt to shut down debate on the matter which gave only one non-lawmaker an opportunity to speak against it, the state Senate Workforce Committee passed SB 474, to “require that certain documents filed pursuant to WV Jobs Act which include records of wages be considered confidential.”

Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, was absolutely correct in standing to express concerns about limiting the access to information about how taxpayer dollars are being used. But lawmakers did not need his explanation that low bidders can abuse the system with big change orders; or that there are examples of contractors using bribes and hiring family members of politicians to get favorable treatment. Legislators already know how that works.

Perhaps that is why they felt they needed to act. It has occurred to them how closely the public will watch the spending of the $1.5 billion Road Bond. As Smith said, “The public voted for it knowing payrolls were available. But now, after it passes, you want to come back and say, ‘We want to hide this information.'”

Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, must have had a difficult time keeping a straight face when he said “I trust the media less than I do the government.” No member of the public (we are not just talking about media access, here, and Sen. Smith knows it) who has had the painful experience of watching how Charleston handled taxpayer money over the past several decades could take him seriously. If he finds the government so trustworthy, what could there possibly be to hide? He knows the answer. So do the other lawmakers who passed the bill out of committee.

There is still time for ethical lawmakers to stop this bill. There is still time for voters to let them know what will happen if they take away the public’s ability to monitor how its money is being spent.