When Bill Maloney was running for Governor of West Virginia he often claimed he could reduce state spending dramatically by eliminating millions of dollars in government fraud, waste and abuse. Maloney lost twice, so he never got the chance to put his theory to work.
IN 2014 after his political career ended, Maloney started a conservative think tank called the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy. That organization has now partnered with the conservative pro-business Taxpayers Protection Alliance, to finally document what Maloney has always contended exists in West Virginia state government–massive waste of taxpayer dollars.
The authors of the report, entitled Wild & Wasteful West Virginia, say by “combing through the state budget, audits, contracts, check registers and grants, and conducting interviews with policymakers and bureaucrats,” they have identified $330 million in “wasteful spending spread across nearly 60 different state programs” out of a $4.6 billion budget.
The specifics are included in a 54-page booklet. Some proposed savings are big and some small, from following the recommendations in the performance review audit to save $25 million to $50 million in the Division of Highways to eliminating the $1,000 grant for the Pickens Historical Society Maple Syrup Festival.
Other examples of what the report terms as taxpayer waste include a grant for the Appalachian Queer Film Festival, $750,000 for the Marshall Athletic Department in 2013, abuse of the state’s purchasing card system, a state Agriculture Department loan program and small grants to individual artists for professional development.
The report says the “silliest, most unnecessary government activity” it found in West Virginia is the Clements State Tree Nursery in West Columbia, which specializes in “Christmas trees and seedling species for trees native to West Virginia.” The nursery is largely self-sustaining, but the report says taxpayers spent $48,000 to buy a new water pump this year.
And on it goes.
However, context is important. Generally classifying many, if not most, of these taxpayer funded activities as “wasteful” is subjective. It can be argued, for example, that funding the arts is a legitimate government function that improves our society or that spending $3.2 million on the Courtesy Patrol benefits highway users and advances the image of the state as a helpful and friendly place.
Still, it’s worthwhile to see just how many things taxpayers actually pay for in West Virginia.
The most valuable function of the Wild & Wasteful West Virginia report is to start a discussion about the role of government, especially during a time when the state is struggling to close gaps in the budget and lawmakers are contemplating tax increases proposed by Governor Tomblin.
No doubt each of the activities highlighted–and in some cases ridiculed–by the waste report has the backing of a constituent group and lawmakers representing those constituents. If you don’t think so, try eliminating funding for the Charles Town Christmas Festival or Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall.
There are things government must do, and things government likes to do. As West Virginia’s budget tightens even more, it would be worthwhile for the state’s leaders to have a candid discussion about the differences between the two.