An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Does your employer provide you with a company vehicle? Does your employer, even, provide vehicles that equate to one for every five employees? If you are a West Virginia state government employee, you very likely answered “yes.” That is because there are at least 7,700 government-owned vehicles in the Mountain State – more state vehicles per capita than any of the other states in the Southern Legislative Conference.
A legislative audit, being conducted on behalf of the House Government Organization Committee, is trying to figure out why in the world – with our budget as troubled as it has been for the past couple of years – taxpayers are footing the bill for so many vehicles.
Among the worst head-scratchers pointed out by Del. Gary Howell, R-Mineral, are two Jaguar Land Rover SUVs, wasting away at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, which claims they are necessary for mine rescue operations; or a 2012 Fisker Karma – a $100,000+ luxury sports car – allegedly being used at West Virginia University for autonomous driving research.
Meanwhile, that 7,700 figure is probably far too low. In 2011, there were reportedly 9,350 state-owned vehicles in use. The state has since purchased 3,500 vehicles. (Yes, taxpayers, you have bought an average of 700 cars per year for each of the past five years). But there is no good record-keeping for cars that have been put out of service. How did we get to 7,700? What happened to the other 5,150 vehicles?
“The more questions we ask, trying to nail down exactly how many vehicles the state has, nobody seems to be able to actually answer that question, which is truly alarming,” Howell told another publication. “We’ve got to get better control over it.”
West Virginia cannot afford to operate this way, anymore. The creation of the Fleet Management Office in response to a 2009 audit that proclaimed rampant misuse of state vehicles, for which approximately $70 million per year was being spent on operation, appears to have done nothing more than add a layer of bureaucracy that costs even more money.
If lawmakers are looking to drive home the message about spending less, and more responsibly, our massive state fleet appears to be a fantastic place to start.