I’ve been to this Privateer Rodeo a time or two. But I couldn’t walk away – even 3500 miles from Texas. I had to respond to an Austin American-Statesman article that spiked my labor interest.
Privatization experiments are an often overblown problematic budgetary panacea at every level of government. While on rare occasion they deliver the goods at Wal-Mart prices, privateers often leave states, counties and municipalities holding the proverbial plastic bag. Having lived in Texas for over thirteen years, your article made me homesick to join this debate.
I will preface my dialogue with the fact that I am a unionist, but honestly found the ever-pervasive conflicting opinions offered by both sides on this issue in your article came down most favorably in the context of Mike Gross of the Texas State Employees Union’s brief comment. "There seems to be an almost ideologically driven, long-term movement to reduce the size of government and transfer work to private contractors in the face of failure after failure." His aim is true from a perspective of experience, not vitriolic rhetoric.
I saw that hell-bent-for-leather attitude first hand in the context of my work in Texas too. Working as a city and county employee advocate in Houston, we dealt with endless cost-savings ploys to privatize refuse services. But thanks to cooperative labor-management relations between City of Houston Solid Waste Management and the solid waste workers’ union, AFSCME Local 1550, efficient, cost-effective public service was, and continues to be provided to its citizenry in spite of aggressive ongoing interests to turn the service private. One of our chief concerns lied in the fact that none of the solid waste companies interested in overtaking the money-making enterprise headquartered in Texas. Taxpayers didn’t take too kindly to that. We also surveyed customers who indicated overwhelmingly that the service should remain a City of Houston function. And, they liked the accessibility and accountability of knowing they could contact the City of Houston and their respective city council member should the need arise; proud Texans serving a proud Texas community.
Conversely, Brent Connett, policy analyst at the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute offers rant that serves as a fine example of crystal-clear-politically-driven mantra. "Any mistakes made by the private sector pale in comparison to the abuse, neglect and crimes committed by state employees at state schools." His comment pretends to simplify privatization of public services as a no-brain shooting barrel where the fish simply cannot be missed. This gentleman needs to step out from behind his computer screen at the Righty Ranch and take a tour at a public institution or facility. And while he’s at it, Brent — a fine Texan I’m sure — might want to reconsider where those private firms he freely lauds are headquartered. Do all these alleged "savings" matter if the privateers who line up at the public trough aren’t Texas companies? Do the math; follow the money.
I am truly hopeful all public employee unions will come together in Texas to put managerial, political and citizens’ feet to the fire; carefully weighing, then undisputedly proving all the economic and social benefits to their community — realized or lost — before recklessly contracting state, county or municipal functions to privateers.
Sam Rhodes, Anchorage AK