Friday, October 26, 2007

Utah's undemocratic branch strikes again

Sounds like we need to see which legislator owns a golf course.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, is backing legislation that would vest tremendous power in a 15-member board appointed by the governor which would have broad authority to decide what services towns, cities, counties and the state can provide and what unfairly competes with businesses.
He believes the state's proper role includes making sure "local governments aren't getting into the business of business and putting private concerns that have invested their capital out of business," said Stephenson.
Stephenson, who chairs the Government Competition and Privatization Subcommittee, said lawmakers keep hearing from business owners who say their survival is being threatened by competition from government-owned entities, and said that is the path the former Soviet Union took and it paid a price. He also noted that government has a built-in advantage because it is exempt from taxes that businesses must pay.
Under the proposed bill, labeled as a "working draft," any business owner that felt he or she was being hurt by unfair competition could go to the Government Competition and Privatization Commission, which would decide if the activity was a "core government function."
If not, it could order the government to stop and, if the municipality refuses, go to court to seek fines and penalties.
Here are a list of these government operations that the Republican controlled legislature wants to do away with:
* Catering and reception halls. Operators have said the low prices to rent public buildings, like Red Butte Arboretum or the Salt Lake Library for receptions undercuts private reception centers.
* Municipal golf courses. They can charge lower rates than private courses.
* Recreation centers. They compete with private gyms.
* Trash collection. Cities disposing of their own trash cut into opportunities for private firms.
* Ambulance services. Some cities are offering municipal ambulance services, competing with private entities.
Because in the bizzaro world of the legislature, the goal of government is to protect business, not citizens that have to pay for things.

Local governments don't do these services to make money but to serve the people of their county/city/town. If the people in these areas don't want, say for Salt Lake County to own horse stables, they would tell their elected officials that or run against them. Unlike the Soviet Union, Utahns currently have the power to prevent their local government from doing things they don't like and have done it in the past. Water in Ogden, for example, isn't fluoridated. But people like to play golf, for example, and not everyone can afford to join the Country Club. The public likes these services and since these places don't have to operate on a profit, they are cheaper to run.

Private businesses that do things that local governments do can earn their business by doing their job better than the local government. And I thought privatization meant that everything would be cheaper because the marketplace is so efficient, so why should these businesses need the legislature to close down these government venues and services.

Beyond my opposition to the substance of what they are proposing to do (privatization for the sake of benefiting lobbyists at the expense of the public), I don't like the way it is being done. Local governments are accountable because officials are elected. This commission, however would be completely anonymous and unaffected by public sentiment since they are appointed.

1 comment:

Misty Fowler said...

Here's my issue with the argument that these things shouldn't exist because local business could be harmed. How many government institutions can get anything right?

Seriously, let's take the issue of vehicle registration. I pay more to go to Jiffy Lube to get my vehicle registered, because apparently, waiting for 4 hours to get it done is ok with our government. Private business CAN compete. Private business can provide frills and extra service and actually cares what your experience is like. The government doesn't, and never will.

There are a few things that might be able to be better as public service than as private, but that's because of citizen involvement.

If citizens were willing to put as much time and effort into making schools better as the few for vouchers here in Utah are, our schools would be better.

We citizens have bitched and moaned for years that the DMV sucks, that's pretty much the national standard. But, now that we can pay a few extra bucks to get registration elsewhere, a lot of us do so. The state gets the same amount, and we can choose not to have any extra service (like driving off with said registration in 15 minutes), but the option of paying extra for something better is still there. I'm ok with that.