Slamming door on the public
Voters would be rightly outraged if lawmakers approved a government program without letting the public know the costs or the details. Citizens should be equally outraged that the Legislature wants to give tax dollars to private vendors without any public oversight. Senate Bill 7170 would keep secret any information about outsourcing a government function until after the contract has been approved. In other words, the public would not know what was going on until it was already done. The measure stems from a court ruling last year against the Legislature's privatization of 29 prisons. It was included in the overall budget; the state courts ruled the privatization should have been in a separate bill.We believe the lawmakers had a point when they contested the judge's ruling that a change projected to save the Department of Corrections $22 million was not "rationally related" to the overall budget. Moreover, the privatization was publically vetted. Hearings on the matter started in October 2010 and continued until approval in May. Full hearings were held in the Senate and House. But regardless of the details of that case, this proposal would allow lawmakers to outsource work to private companies without proper scrutiny. It invites mischief. The measure even frees outsourcing efforts from having to do the cost-benefit analyses, service comparisons and other fiscal safeguards that state agencies must perform when making a budget request. The private vendors would have to worry about such matters only after they have been awarded the contract. In other words, private vendors get a pass, and the state will check on the public's tax dollars later. This is not free-market competition. We don't oppose lawmakers' privatization efforts, which are being strenuously opposed by public unions. Privatization, properly managed, can bring efficiency and innovation. But the common Tallahassee belief that private operations are always superior is unfounded to the point of being silly. Former Gov. Jeb Bush discovered that during an over-hasty attempt to privatize as many government functions as possible. Some outsourcing efforts worked exceptionally well, but there were also cases of waste, incompetence and corruption. Prison privatization has a checkered past in Florida. A 2005 audit found that Florida overpaid two private prisons $13 million over eight years. This legislation, rather than strengthening protections for public's dollars, opens the door for abuse. It actually hurts the case for privatization.