All over the country, cash strapped state and local governments have handed over control of critical public services and assets to corporations backed by Wall Street banks that promise to handle them better, faster and cheaper. Unfortunately for taxpayers, not only has outsourcing these services failed to keep this promise, but too often it undermines transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition.
Washington taxpayers have seen this first hand. Washington previously contracted out provision of prison services to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Inmates from Washington were housed in a private prison located in Arizona.
In 2007, in part due to CCA’s inadequate staffing practices, two Washington inmates, convicted of murder charges, overpowered a guard were able to escape the facility. Fortunately, the escapees were eventually caught, but the company’s decision to cut corners by not maintaining adequate staffing put the public at serious risk.
Outsourcing means taxpayers have very little say over how tax dollars are spent and no say on actions taken by private companies that control our public services. Outsourcing means taxpayers cannot vote out executives who make decisions that hurt public health and safety.
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Outsourcing means taxpayers are contractually stuck with a monopoly run by a single corporation – and those contracts often last decades. And outsourcing too often means a race to the bottom for the local economy, as wages and benefits fall while corporate profits rise.
That’s why In The Public Interest is supporting the Washington Taxpayer Protection Act, a new proposal from Rep. Sam Hunt that would give Washington tax payers some of the strongest outsourcing protections in the nation.
The measure Rep. Hunt is sponsoring will reign in predatory contracting of government services in Washington. It is a common sense agenda that, left or right, we can all agree on.
Specifically, the Washington Taxpayer Protection Act would:
• Require a thorough cost analysis of all bids and guarantee taxpayers a minimum 10-percent savings before any service is privatized.
• Ban contractors from using taxpayer resources for private gain.
• Require agencies to conduct a “comprehensive impact assessment” before outsourcing services that were formerly provided by public service workers.
• Require contractors to maintain open books, just as governments must when performing public services.
• Require contracts to specify periodic performance reviews, wage information for contractors and subcontractors, as well as ensuring contracts can be cancelled when contractors don’t keep their promises.
In an era of outsourcing, it is essential that lawmakers remain watchdogs for the public interest. Elected leaders should vote in favor of the Washington Taxpayer Empowerment Act. Lawmakers championing these proposals, like Rep. Hunt, stand on the side of taxpayers, and plain common sense.
Donald Cohen is executive director of In the Public Interest, a national resource center on outsourcing public services and responsible contracting.