CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As West Virginia prepares to spend millions of dollars on highways construction, Gov. Jim Justice says he wants to handle the spending carefully and ensure the hiring of as many West Virginians as possible.

“The net of the whole thing is there’s going to be a massive effort within my administration to get as many things in place as we can legally do to ensure West Virginians get the jobs,” Justice told reporters this week.

West Virginia voters resoundingly approved a $1.6 billion road bond measure during statewide balloting this past Saturday.

Unofficial results from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office showed about a 3-1 margin in favor of the bond issue. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the Secretary of State’s office showed 87,751 in favor of the bond and 37,759 against it.

Now the focus by the governor and others is assuring the funds will be used wisely and to significant economic effect.

“To ensure that as many West Virginians as we possibly can get these jobs, we’re going to enforce the jobs work act,” Justice said Monday, referring to the requirement that contractors on state-bid work hire 75 percent of their workforce from within the local labor market.

“The next thing is, we’re going to talk with legislative leaders and see if there’s anything beyond that that we can legally do to ensure that as many West Virginians as possible get these jobs.”

That effort may begin with the governor’s call for a special session. The session would coincide with regularly-scheduled legislative interim meetings this Monday.

Justice said one bill to be introduced is likely to focus on hiring procedures for state employees.

“To hire an employee in this state may take 6 to 9 months. We don’t want to eliminate anything of any kind of consequence,” Justice said. “When you have to make sure somebody has a dog named Chester to be able to hire them, it just takes too long.”

Tom Smith

State Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said his agency has a backlog of job openings but has needed the means to fill them.

“We’re 500 under quota,” Smith said. “We’ve had chronic understaffing, so besides inspectors and students from WVU and Marshall to help us design projects we need a whole range of folks — people in the human resource functions, people in the audit functions.

“There’s a whole lot of different areas where we just need to get back to where we’ve had people able to do the work where we’ve been chronically understaffed for years.”

Steve White

That hiring should enhance the ability of the highways department to assure that contractors are abiding by West Virginia law and paying the proper taxes, said Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation.

“I’ve got contractors who we believe haven’t paid their state income taxes,” White said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “You’ve cut government to the bone. There’s not the people there to do the oversight, to do these audits that need to be done.”

Justice said he’s also establishing a task force to make sure contractors are abiding by West Virginia law.

“We’re going to monitor like crazy,” the governor said.”We’re going to put a task force in place immediately — a true task force — to monitor that contractors are paying their rightful share of exactly what they owe in taxes.”

Smith said that group consists of himself, Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy.

“What I can say is we’re coordinating at unprecedented levels already, regarding different contracts that are being considered with different contractors,” Smith said.

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J.B. McCuskey

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey said his office plans to roll out an interactive website to allow citizens to track spending on the roads projects.

“What we can and are already doing is our office will have a specific transparency website to road bond money. We believe we can do it by project, by county and by road,” McCuskey said today on “Talkline.”

More eyes to assure proper spending is the goal, McCuskey added.

“I’m excited about working with the executive branch and with DOT to make sure we maximize this possibility,” he said. “We need to take this money and make sure it builds $3 billion of roads, doesn’t line certain people’s pockets.”

Mike Clowser

The Contractors Association of West Virginia is interested in making sure local firms are able to bid competitively on the work.

“How do we maximize these projects to make sure we create a lot of opportunities for West Virginia firms?” asked Mike Clowser, executive director of the contractors association. “That includes breaking up the contracts into small enough pieces.”

Because highways work in West Virginia has, comparatively, become a trickle in recent years, contractors have held the line on expansion, Clowser said. That means they’ve remained relatively small compared to competitors in neighboring states.

“So with the work that’s coming out we hope to see a lot of West Virginia firms start to grow,” Clowser said on “Talkline.”

He also agreed that West Virginia’s workforce needs to be bolstered to take advantage of employment opportunities.

“How do we make sure there is a workforce? We’re going to bring a lot of people home who are in North Carolina and other parts of the country,” Clowser said.

West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword liked what he heard of the governor’s goals for employment and transparency.

“What was good to hear both Saturday night and again today was the governor said ‘We’re going to enforce the West Virginia Jobs Act,’ which essentially means 75 percent of jobs will go to local workers,” Sword said Monday.

“Now he went above and beyond to say he’s also going to have a discussion with legislative leaders to see if they can do more. “We happen to think that there are things they can do to make sure these jobs go to local workers. We’ll be in conversations with the governor and legislative leaders about those ideas.”

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