CHARLESTON – The newly launched "Report It WV" hotline, an option for state residents to report suspected government waste or fraud, doesn't create any additional costs, the state senator heading up the project said during a recent interview.
"The number doesn't cost the taxpayers a cent," state Sen. Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) said in a telephone interview with The West Virginia Record. "The number already existed and the staff who answer the number is already funded. They're just doing double duty now."
West Virginia state Sen. Craig Blair, right, speaks with a colleague on the floor of the Senate Photo courtesy Jacque Bland
That's important in a state where recession is still a thing, said the District 15 senator, who also is chairman of the Committee on Government Organization. "As with a lot of things, it's not how much you make, it's how much you spend," he said.
West Virginia remains in recession, along with Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming, despite the recovery in the rest of the country, according to a Bloomberg report earlier this year, which quoted state economic performance tracked by Moody’s Analytics. Three other states at risk of slipping into recession are Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, according to the report.
That reality remains in the forefront of any legislative ideas and means government waste cannot be tolerated, Blair said. However, he added, reporting government waste and other issues can be difficult because, traditionally, residents would bring such things to the attention of their legislators, whose contact information can't always be brought readily to mind.
"I've thought about this for years," Blair said. "There just hasn't been a viable alternative."
He added that it also required a different way of thinking. "I have a different way of thinking and doing things," he said. "I'm not ashamed to admit that."
And if it could be done without adding to the burden of state taxpayers, all the better, Blair said. "I may be a senator but, more than anything, I'm a tax payer," he said. "We're all in this together."
With that, Blair announced the launch of the “Report It WV” hotline on Aug. 3, a way for residents to report tips and connect them with Senate staff members ready to investigate their claims.
Tips may be reported anonymously, either on the phone at 304-357-7935, or via email at ReportItWV@wvlegislature.gov.
While this hotline is new, the idea is a tried and tested one in West Virginia, Blair said. He cited the state's Department of Health and Human Resources, which long has maintained a variety of hotline numbers, such as its customer service hotline.
"It's been done before," Blair said. "But it wasn't done under the leadership of Craig Blair."
It's too early to know what to expect from the hotline or even what hot tip one resident or another might phone in, Blair said. He also said he hopes residents won't hesitate to phone in what they think might amount to government waste, even if an investigation might determine it's not that at all. "No matter how large or how small, just call that number and let us know," he said. "Maybe it's something we can take care of legislatively or with existing laws and policies."