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Being wary of too many political pledges

I’m always more than a little leery when politicians, no matter the party, pledge large amounts of money to help fund a project.

We in West Virginia have been burned more than a few times in this regard, especially when it comes to investments in our infrastructure and technology.

Let’s hope recent announcements aren’t just a repeat of history.

On Oct. 15, Gov. Jim Justice announced what he termed as the biggest broadband investment in state history, with an announcement of $1 billion to bring internet service to unserved parts of West Virginia.

The plan was to combine $236 million in the state broadband program, $362 million from Federal Communications Commission funding and another $120 million in state and federal sources, plus some matching funds, by next fall.

He was joined by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, U.S. Rep. David McKinley and U.S. Rep. Carol Miller in making the announcement.

That’s great news, and it’s much needed as we’ve all become increasingly aware in the last few years, as the COVID pandemic has shown our state’s drastic need for internet investment.

My concern is we’ve heard similar pitches before. About a year ago, the governor was joined by Republican state lawmakers on the steps of the Capitol to pledge funds toward broadband investment. Years ago, under a couple of different governors, we were told about other investments in internet technology for our state. That ended up being a bust for which we are still paying.

Manchin offered quite a few pledges of his own this past week, announcing proposed appropriations for a few dozen projects, including two in our immediate area.

Among them was a proposed $22.47 million to assist with the planned service expansion at Weirton’s water treatment plant. This project has been in the works, along with one on the city’s sanitary services, as a way to prepare for expected economic development. Such a sizable federal appropriation would be a big help to getting the project completed, and cut down on any rate increases which would have to be implemented.

Another $7 million has been recommended to assist with repairs to a railroad bridge crossing the Ohio River in the north end of Follansbee. The project is part of plans designed by the Port of West Virginia, which is developing a riverfront port and transportation hub in Brooke County. The plans would mean job creation in the area, and increased commerce for the Upper Ohio Valley.

The catch for these appropriations? Congress has to come to an agreement on the fiscal 2022 national budget bill. We’ve, of course, seen how well our elected officials in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been working together lately. Even if the budget is passed with all of these appropriations, the release sent out by Manchin’s office noted the dollar amounts are not final.

West Virginia certainly needs to invest in its future. We’ve spent years focusing on a small number of industries and interests, which have resulted in us falling behind much of the rest of the nation in many ways.

Throwing money at the problem may provide a short-term lift, but if we then move on to something else, we will never be able to move forward. It takes a united front, hard work and not just a political press conference to make it happen.

In politics, promises and pledges are easy to make. Keeping up with them and making sure they actually happen always seems to be the hard part.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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