Transparency: What are lawmakers hiding with new bill?

Only a few short years ago, Republicans leading the charge toward a historic power shift in Charleston were promising a sharp turn away from the bad old days — the way things had always been done. My how times have changed.

A hint of it came before this year’s legislative session began, when State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said “You know, I used to rail against single-party rule, but now …” and the room dissolved into knowing laughter.

By then, West Virginia voters had said yes to a $1.6 billion road improvement bond issue, amid promises that most of the jobs created by highway and bridge improvements would go to Mountain State residents, if possible. Voters took the bait.

Now, if the state Senate has its way, it is time for the switch.

State Senate Bill 474, on the verge of passage in that body, would shut off access to payroll records for publicly funded construction projects. West Virginians would be left to rely on assurances from state officials that in-state residents are getting the jobs. But how are we to know whether lawmakers have kept their word if the public and press are unable to examine those records?

Such access has been permitted for many years. We have heard no complaints about workers’ privacy being invaded, though legislators in favor of eliminating transparency claim it would be a concern.

If the public is to be blocked from even limited access to payroll records for publicly funded projects, it begs the question, what are lawmakers trying to hide? What reason is there for the Legislature and King Bureaucracy to team up as they did for generations in turning their backs on taxpayers –voters — keeping them in the dark about how public money is being spent?