Tobacco commission needs to spend more wisely, report says

A commission created to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars in Virginia’s most economically depressed areas has spent too much on projects that have not created jobs or boosted salaries, according to a critical legislative audit released Monday.

A long-awaited study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said the tobacco commission is too large, does not meet regularly enough and fails to scrutinize projects paid with $1 billion from a settlement with the nation’s largest tobacco companies.

The Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission needs to do a better job documenting the performance of its grants. Only 11 percent of the projects can even be measured for results, and it’s too soon to evaluate projects that have received $372 million of those funds in the last three years.

In the past decade, 1,368 projects worth $756 million have been awarded for high-speed Internet access in rural areas, walking trails and improvements to the Martinsville Speedway. About $606 million is available for future grants.

“The focus of the commission is on revitalization, and if you look back on the transcripts of the discussions for economic impact there is usually precious little,’’ study leader Walt Smiley told JLARC members Monday.

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