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Editorial: Taxpayers have the right to know where the dollars go

From the Times West Virginian of Fairmont:

As journalists, we generally oppose any new limitations to open government records.

Journalists carry the torch that keeps government open and in the light of public view. This is very important so that the actions of elected and appointed public officials are not done in secret, and the public can be fully informed. Having open and accessible information allows people to know not only what their government is doing but why.

As representatives for the Marion County community, we specifically oppose Senate Bill 412

Referred to as the Jobs Act Reporting bill, the three pages of proposed legislation do nothing but seek a Freedom of Information exemption for documents that detail wages paid to employees when a private company contracts with a governmental entity for a construction project.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment. There is a measure heading through the Senate, which will likely be taken up in the House of Delegates, that will shield the public from knowing how much public money is going toward salaries on public construction projects.

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, is the bill’s sponsor and contends the bill is for the protection the privacy of the companies workers.

But here’s how we see it: If you choose to work for the government — even on a contract basis on a construction project — you must be held to the same accountability and transparency standards as the government you’re working for.

We want to know exactly how government dollars are being spent, especially when it comes to multi-million-dollar construction projects that should never be hidden from the public’s view. Monitoring of the spending on state construction projects is and should remain a requirement of the bidding process. If the company decides to take state money, they must understand taxpayers demand an accounting of the expenditures.

Without oversight, there’s room for abuse. That’s just reality. And there have been too many cases of abuse involving state highway contracts already, including a Department of Highways kickback scheme in Putnam County uncovered at the end of 2016.

Blair and lawmakers who would support this bill want to protect the interests and privacy of businesses that want to complete construction work for the state of West Virginia. But who is looking out for the state itself? When you remove transparency from government spending, you’re telling the state’s residents they have no business knowing where their own tax dollars are going.

We would never support a measure that would prevent the public from holding the government and its officials accountable, and we hope common sense prevails in Charleston over this issue.

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