Editorials, Opinion

Justice needs to pick an incentive plan and stick to it

When Gov. Justice first announced his $100 savings bond incentive to 16- to 35-year-olds who got the COVID-19 vaccine, we advocated he open that program to all ages. Since then, Justice has added a lottery system that will potentially give away two 4-year scholarships for ages 12-25 to any institution in West Virginia; two new custom outfitted trucks; 25 weekend getaways to state parks; five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses; five custom hunting rifles and five custom shotguns; $1 million every week from June 20 to Aug. 4; two final grand prizes of $1.588 million and $588,000 and … and … and who knows what else he’ll pull out of his hat — or Baby Dog’s ear — like a birthday party magician.

The initial incentive for young people was $20 million (but Justice announced last week the $100 program will expand to accommodate 12- to 15-year-olds, so the price tag will increase). The model of truck Justice floated in his original lottery announcement costs around $80,000, so there’s an additional $160,000. The lowest rate for a night at a West Virginia state park is $90, and we’ll assume a “weekend getaway” is Saturday and Sunday, with only one overnight stay. Twenty-five of those will cost $2,250. Lifetime hunting and fishing licenses cost $805 in 2020, so we’re looking at $4,025 there. According to Outdoors International, a custom rifle costs anywhere from $2,000-$6,000 and the average over-the-counter shotgun from Bass Pro Shops is $500 or more. That’s $12,500 to $32,500 or more for 10 guns. Justice hasn’t said how much the scholarships will be, but we know we’re looking at almost $8.2 million in cash prizes.

In all, Justice has announced more than $28.3 million in incentives to get the vaccine.

For now, his lottery is still cheaper than offering $100 to every single person who gets a needle in their arm, but at the rate he keeps throwing out incentives without much thought, we’re not sure that will stay the case.

Instead of giving each idea its due consideration, Justice is just tossing things out at his briefings without thinking them through. A lottery on its own would have been a cheaper and probably more successful program than the savings bonds for a limited age group, but now he’s on the hook for all of it. As Dr. Lee Smith said, much of that money could and would be better spent on the chronically underfunded health departments that led the charge throughout the pandemic — and will someday be on the frontlines again.

We also have a niggling worry that Justice’s habit of announcing yet another new incentive every few weeks will lead to people holding off on their vaccines, waiting to see if Justice will sweeten the deal even more.

An incentive system does work. We shouldn’t need it — public safety and a return to somewhat normal life should be incentive enough — but it is undeniably effective. However, Justice needs to make a plan and stick to it. And he really needs to think it through before he announces it publicly.