West Virginians deserve better
For years, West Virginia leaders have been urged to think outside the box when it comes to economic development. While the state always needs to be evaluating new ways to attract businesses, officials cannot lose sight of those initiatives — as appears to be the case with a loan program initiated nearly 20 years ago.
The Legislature in 2002 created a $25 million venture capital loan program that allowed the state’s Economic Development Authority to invest in firms that would, in turn, create jobs in West Virginia. Seven venture capital firms received $24 million from the fund.
An audit of the program from the Legislative Auditor’s Office revealed some serious issues, though. The Development Authority has no records of how many jobs the program actually created or how much was invested into West Virginia. Of the initial $25 million, more than $24 million is unaccounted for.
The audit also determined that two of the firms that received loans — $8 million total — did not invest any money back into West Virginia.
The EDA attempted to defend itself, telling auditors that the program did, in fact, create jobs and investment in West Virginia. However, the authority has no records to back up its claims.
The fault here is not necessarily with the program, but instead with its administration. The loan program may have been wildly successful — but without any records, there’s no way to prove it.
State Treasurer Riley Moore is right to ask lawmakers for measures that would increase oversight, transparency and accountability over taxpayer funds used by the EDA. It’s a shame we have to assume they need it.