The idea of privatization in state government has been growing across the country, especially since the 90s as local governments watched as an increasingly larger portion of the military was privatized (primarily for support services). Some states have sold off various functions traditionally performed by government in an attempt to cut costs while still providing the same benefits to the citizens. Traditionally publicly-managed services such as water management, government benefit tracking and distribution, prison management, and street parking enforcement are just some of the public services that various cities, counties, and states, have handed off to private businesses and corporations over the years.
Supporters of privatization claim that private businesses are inherently better than government at finding inefficiencies because businesses have a profit motive. Supporters also point out that, by way of cutting inefficiencies, a private organization can speed up the delivery of services and lower costs. Critics, on the other hand, are quick to point out that if businesses turn into monopolies (like what happens when only one company controls a former government service), they loose the incentive to look for cost cutting measures. Opponents also note that the “inefficiencies” private companies tend to cut first are worker benefits and wages, and that despite using public money private companies are not held to the same external accountability standards or transparency levels that publicly-held services are.
Utah does have what is known as the “Privatization Board,” its mission is to look at government agencies and determine if part or all of those functions are commercial or “inherently governmental.” This board will recommend privatization if it feels that it would result in cost saving while providing equal or better service.
Senator Karen Mayne (Democrat – Kearns) wants to make sure that state policy does not limit its options to the simplistic “government run” or “privatizatized,” but that the state consider multiple possibilities when deciding if a government agency could work better elsewhere. To reach this end, Mayne is proposing SJR 5 – Privatization of Government Services Joint Resolution.
Mayne wants to ensure that privatization of a public service should only occur if a current government program or a non-profit can not provide equal results for citizens—a for-profit company would only be used if it was truly the best option for the taxpayer. Mayne also argues in her resolution that, if privatization of a program should happen, then measurements will be put in place to see if the change was truly an effective route for the state to take—ensuring that the decision to hand over services was, indeed, the best idea for the state. Finally, Mayne is fighting to ensure that, if the entire process of potentially converting to a private company for a government service is to take place, that it takes place with full transparency and makes people accountable for the decisions they make.
Depending on the mood of local and national companies and corporations, this resolution could either fly smoothly or hit some major snags with lobbyists. One of the related conversations on the Hill this year will be the prison-relocation and, along with it, the potential to privatize Utah’s corrections system. Even if this particular debate fails to come together, there are numerous subcontractors that receive money from state programs for providing services. These companies could face greater scrutiny if it is discovered that some contractors do not provide a noticeable advantage to the taxpayer—while those that do provide a valuable service would have nothing to worry about, those on the fringes may not like the idea of transparency entering the process.
The resolution is certainly in the best interest of the taxpayers. Not only would inefficient government programs be replicated at a lower cost and greater effectiveness, but it would also ensure that we are supporting the government agencies and programs that do work for us at an acceptable level.
To contact Senator Mayne, click here or call 801-968-7756.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker