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It’s his money, but $25 million could be put to better use

By Delegate John Doyle - Report From the Legislature | Aug 6, 2021

Brad Smith lives in Huntington. He was CEO of Intuit for a number of years, and has endeavored to help his native state, to which he returned quite wealthy after his retirement.

I commend Smith heartily for his efforts. Among his other works, he’s donated quite a bit of money to West Virginia University. But his latest idea left me scratching my head, after it was fully explained to me.

He recently gave $25 million to the state government as a fund to attract telecommuters to move to West Virginia. The idea, as I was first told, was to focus on certain communities that would be deemed attractive for such an endeavor and make those communities even more attractive. The first three selected were Morgantown, Shepherdstown and Fayetteville. Others would come later, perhaps Lewisburg, Elkins, Thomas, Davis and Berkeley Springs. Those were, I thought, excellent choices. So far, so good.

But then I learned some other details of the plan. One stopped me in my tracks.

In addition to giving money to further spruce up some already relatively spruced up communities, Smith wants to give $12,000 to each of the out-of-state telecommuters his money attracts.

How is this fair? A lot of folks I know who already live in Jefferson County telecommute for work. Some of them moved here to telecommute, some began telecommuting after they moved here and some grew up here. They get zilch.

What are the rules for choosing who gets $12,000? Suppose someone lives in Sharpsburg and decides to move 3-4 miles across the Potomac. Does that person get $12,000?

And hey, I love bragging about my home town of Shepherdstown. But if you’re going to pay people to move to our state, mightn’t it make more sense to pay them to live someplace that wouldn’t automatically be at the top of their list? Instead of Fayetteville, how about Ansted instead? Maybe Mannington rather than Morgantown? And Romney claims to be five seconds older than Shepherdstown.

I’m told that WVU is managing this effort. Neither WVU nor Smith has asked me my opinion, and they don’t have to. It’s not taxpayers’ money that’s being spent. This is similar to a large donation to a college or university, whereupon the donor gets to say upon what the donation is to be spent.

But it seems logical to me that Smith would want his hard earned and generously donated money to have the most positive effect possible. To me, that would mean using all the money to help telecommuters in general in the target communities, improving everything from broadband to drinking water to education to health care to walking trails.

I imagine Gov. Jim Justice, upon learning of Smith’s idea, contacting Smith and suggesting thusly: “Brad, my friend, I’m grateful as all get out. But giving people money directly to do something you wish is a cockamamie idea, and it won’t work.”

Does anyone reading this believe that conversation occurred?

John Doyle is a delegate for the West Virginia District 67. He can be reached at johndoyle@wvhouse.gov.