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Wise hammers Underwood on contingency fund money

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

NUTTER FORT -- As the Nov. 7 election draws near with the governor's race in an apparent dead heat, candidates continue to compete for Harrison County voters.

"I think Harrison County is a big factor in any governor's race," said Thomas Keeley, a Harrison County commissioner and vice-chair of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Wise's campaign committee. "That's why both the Governor and Congressman Wise are concentrating on the county."

Republican incumbent Cecil Underwood campaigned in Clarksburg Wednesday, saying he has helped continue economic success that started under Gaston Caperton.

In a Thursday appearance at the Harrison County Public Safety Complex, Wise and State Auditor Glen Gainer continued to accuse Underwood of depleting the Governor's Contingency Fund and state highway bonds on projects intended to aid his re-election campaign.

The governor's spokesman, Dan Page, called the allegations "nonsense."

Gainer said Thursday Underwood has spent $16 million from the $22.4 million contingency fund this fiscal year, bringing the balance to less than $6 million. Gainer also accused Underwood of effectively losing $1 billion in matching federal highways funds by spending 1996 Road Bond funds too rapidly rather than seeking federal matches.

"We're giving out $5,000 here, $10,000 there -- we're giving out money to everybody in the world. The contingency fund was never established as a slush fund," Gainer said.

"We have taken in thousands of orphan roads, many of them city streets. I have a problem with the state paying to pave city streets."

Gainer added he believes the state may face a deficit at the end of this fiscal year.

Wise also said be believes recent contingency fund and highways spending was politically motivated.

"Clearly the state is spending at a far greater pace now than it has in the past," Wise said. "My question to the governor is 'If you've done this all in the past four months, why haven't you done it in the past four years?' My other concern is, if we're spending so much now, where will we be in January?"

Page strongly disputed the accusations.

"We've drawn down every federal dollar that's available to us. Not every highways project qualifies for federal matching funds," Page said. "Many of those that needed to be done are close to people's homes and require state money."

Page said contingency fund expenditures include $8.1 million for drought and flood relief, $2.77 million for schools and libraries and $1.5 million to police and fire departments and emergency squads.

"For the drought of 1999, we got bills up to three months ago for things like hauling water and drilling wells," he said. "The Legislature created this fund to give a flexible response to community needs. Is he (Wise) saying they should not be funded?"

Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at sgainer@exponent-telegram.com.

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