Privatization done right can be a boon for taxpayers and those dependent on government services.
Outsourcing medical care for veterans – an idea floated by President Drumpf – would very likely reduce wait time and improve the quality of care received by those who have served our nation.
It couldn’t get much worse.
Too many veterans have died or needlessly suffered while waiting in line because of the inept delivery of government-provided care.
Worse, there’s an inadequate level of urgency to fix the problem.
Such earnestness is likely to be more present if a private company whose reputation and future is on the line is charged with delivering the care.
There’s really not a strong case for claiming that government somehow delivers medical care, builds roads, lands planes or more effectively educates children than conscientious competent engineers and teachers in the private sector.
However, even the fact that private entities can, and often do, provide these products and services at lower costs and more effectively doesn’t eliminate government’s proper, if limited, role of ensuring sound contracts, proper oversight and responses to demands for accountability, including transparency related to the spending of taxpayer dollars.
Just because government may not be the best entity to deliver a service doesn’t negate or minimize the importance of ensuring such services get delivered and that citizens still have access to how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent.
Creators of Kentucky’s sunshine laws diligently sought to provide such protection and ensure that outsourced services relying heavily on taxpayer dollars were transparent by making private companies deriving at least 25 percent of their funds from state or local agencies subject to the open records law.
However, loopholes created during intervening years weakened the law, allowing private entities like the Utility Management Group (UMG) to take Pikeville’s Mountain Water District (MWD) and its ratepayers for a ride in recent years.
UMG played hide-and-seek with ratepayers’ dollars behind those amendments, which – for some untenable reason – exempted funds received for certain types of publicly bid goods and services as being subjected to the 25-percent rule.
It must be deemed unacceptable by all taxpayers and legislators that not only did UMG deny the MWD itself the cost of operating the district, it thumbed its collective nose at then-state Auditor Crit Luallen’s request for cost information.
Whether UMG is subject to Kentucky’s open records laws will be decided by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which heard arguments in February but has yet to rule.
Kentucky legislators should now decide once and for all that secretive, costly and questionable, if not outright corrupt, agencies like UMG – which gets most of their revenues from public sources – need more, not less, light.
Private companies must understand: if they want to use taxpayer dollars to do business with government, how they spend those dollars must be subject to public scrutiny.
Failing to provide such oversight led to a decision by the Legislative Ethics Commission to fine former Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, after one of his companies won $171,000 in no-bid sewer line projects he voted to include in the state budget.
Hall was later convicted and imprisoned for bribing a mine inspector.
Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, who defeated Hall in his re-election bid in 2014, has twice introduced bills to close the loopholes and spray the disinfectant of transparency all over these public-private schemes.
“Regardless of whether a contract is placed for bid or not, the public’s business should be open and available for inspection and review,” Harris replied in a text message seeking comment.
Could consistently ensuring such transparency be even better than a disinfectant? Could it also serve as a vaccine against future secretive, self-serving and corrupt arrangements?
Let’s find out.
Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @bipps on Twitter.