Consider it ironic that in introducing legislation to shield important facts from the public in regard to public projects funded through the taxpayer-supported road bond, lawmakers had shed light on their own fears of transparency.
And that sums up Senate Bill 474, which would keep government entities from releasing for public consumption records that show whether companies benefiting from state tax dollars are hiring West Virginians.
Shrouded in talk of “privacy” and “identity theft,” those supporting the bill, including Preston County Sen. Dave Sypolt and Tucker County Sen. Randy Smith, both Republicans, say that private information of workers like addresses and phone numbers could be released.
But, in reality, what lawmakers — and some contractors — fear is the release of information in regards to competitive wages, as well as whether companies are meeting the threshold of hiring 75 percent of their work force from West Virginia.
Companies fear the release of wage information could aid competitors, either in bidding on the next job or luring workers away. Let’s see: Competitive bidding could lower prices, giving taxpayers more for their money. And workers could benefit from knowing their true value.
As for verifying whether workers are truly from West Virginia, and not just conveniently set up with a hotel address, that responsibility would fall to the state Labor Department or Division of Highways. The likelihood of either being staffed or prepared to handle the tasks is doubtful.
So what better way to verify a crucial part of the West Virginia Jobs Act than to make wage and worker hometown information public, so that unbiased entities like concerned taxpayers or the media could verify the veracity of the statements?
Smith and Sypolt, and 15 other sponsors, believe government is best at verifying those facts and don’t believe the public or media have a right to the information.
We would strongly disagree and think many of the voters of West Virginia would agree with our position.
We think of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, an outspoken supporter of transparent government, when he said:
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
It is time to shine a light on the misguided premise of Senate Bill 474 and demand it dies the legislative death it deserves. A bill of such stature doesn’t deserve to even merit Gov. Jim Justice’s perusal.
And with elections fast approaching, we hope residents keep in mind their elected officials’ stance on transparent government and remember this sage advice, also from Brandeis:
“The most important political office is that of the private citizen.”
It’s time to hold our lawmakers in Charleston accountable.
— The Register-Herald