Four years ago state legislators agreed to provide $5 million to expand access to high-speed Internet service throughout West Virginia. Since then the project, handled by the Broadband Deployment Council, seems to have moved at a leisurely pace. More than one-third of the money has been spent or committed — but all of that has gone to a consultant who is supposed to guide the council on how to spend the remaining $3.3 million.
Now, however, state officials are in a rush to spend those funds. Applications for grants out of the $3.3 million pot will be accepted from July 25 through Aug. 24, with the council’s leaders hoping the entire amount can be doled out by November.
What’s the hurry? Council members seem to think it is important to spend the initial $5 million allocation before the Legislature’s regular annual meeting begins in January. Why? So another $5 million can be requested.
“If we don’t have applications for all this money, that’s not going to be a good message to send to the governor and Legislature,” commented council member Lee Fisher in a published report.
Some rural areas of West Virginia still lack access to high-speed Internet service, so it may be appropriate for the government to help extend it. But recent history shows the state’s record in spending technology money wisely is not good.
The hurry-up-and-spend-it mentality can be blamed.
About three years ago, the state received more than $126 million in federal “stimulus” money for technology improvements. Washington set deadlines for spending the funds. Millions of dollars went to expensive, high-powered routers for courthouses, libraries and other public places — many of which never installed the equipment. Much cheaper, less complex devices would have served the purpose better, some of those who turned down the state routers explained. …
State officials continue to defend their decisions in spending the federal money. Clearly, however, haste made waste.
Now haste will be a factor in how state funds are expended.
Members of the Broadband Deployment Council should review grant applications in the $3.3 million program carefully, to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and where it is needed. Legislators and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin — not to mention taxpayers — will be more upset if money is wasted than if it remains unspent when lawmakers return to Charleston in January.
— Distributed by The Associated Press