Knowing How Our Money Is Spent

Just a few months after West Virginia voters said yes to a $1.6 billion road improvement bond issue, state legislators want to limit the public’s ability to know how the money will be spent.

Among promises made to sway voters in favor of the measure was one that most of the jobs created by highway and bridge improvements would go to Mountain State residents. One means of ensuring that happens is for the public and press to be able to examine payroll information on state-funded construction projects.

State Senate Bill 474, on the verge of passage in that body, would shut off access to the records. West Virginians would be left to rely on assurances from state officials that in-state residents are getting the jobs.

Lawmakers in favor of the bill insist they simply want to protect workers’ privacy. The press should not have access even to limited payroll records for publicly funded projects, they say.

But such access has been permitted for many years. We have heard no complaints about workers’ privacy being invaded.

So why is there concern now?

It is a good question — one without an acceptable answer. Enactment of the bill would prompt some West Virginians to wonder, as we have too often in the past, what our government is trying to hide.