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Chris Walters:Taxpayers' money wasted

By Chris Walters, Op-Ed Commentary, The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the past few months we have learned from Gazette statehouse reporter Eric Eyre that West Virginia is squandering its $126 million dollar federal stimulus grant for broadband deployment. At the same time, we are learning that three state employees may be in trouble because they questioned a bid process that yielded a winner that would cost the state the most money and the work would be done out of state.

Phil Kabler recently reported in his column that state taxpayers are paying the hotel and commuting tab for the new Department of Health Human Resources secretary. No wonder the state is heading into a budget crisis with this type of mismanagement running rampant.

State leaders must be held accountable. They should spend taxpayer dollars carefully. Take the router mess: No businessperson would spend that amount of money as the state did. Instead of buying mega-routers for all locations, most individuals and businesses would have assessed the need for each location and then deployed the appropriate router. In addition, a prudent person would have purchased only what was needed. According to the Eyre's articles, there are several hundred of these routers in storage because they have nowhere to put them.

Why does a rural library need an Internet router that costs $22,000 when the local Radio Shack has one that will work for less than $200? Who made this decision and why? Did anyone profit by taking advantage of taxpayers? These are the same types of questions, among others, being asked by federal investigators, and should be asked by the people and legislators of the state.

Then there is the Department of Health and Human Resources' advertising contract. My first concern is the lack of transparency that surrounds this matter. Here is what I have gleaned from the press accounts. There was a request for proposals for advertising services for the department. The process produced a winner that was the most expensive and was an out-of-state firm. Three department employees were placed on administrative leave because they raised questions. Again, a prudent businessperson would have never selected the most expensive firm if the competing firm's technical abilities were close, as was the case in this situation.

Another issue is that the newest state acting cabinet secretary is living in a hotel at the state's expense, and the state taxpayers are also paying for his mileage to and from his home area. If he wants to live outside of Charleston and commute, that is his choice. Hundreds of state workers commute on a daily basis with one major difference: The state does not cover their travel expenses or put them up in luxury hotels.

Each of these situations point to rampant waste of taxpayer dollars and, in fact, may be ethical breeches on part of government leaders. It is time for the state leaders to become accountable to the taxpayers. We must break this cycle of go-along and get-along. Complacency breeds apathy and will lead to corruption.

Walters is a Republican candidate for state Senate in the Eighth District, representing Kanawha and Putnam counties.

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