There is a big push from “less-is-best” deficit hawks who claim we have to privatize many traditionally government-run programs to reduce our deficits. For example, Gov. Christie’s carefully culled pro-corporate “advisory” panel proposed that we even privatize our state parks, among other things, to save money.

Nonsense. Our state’s fiscal crisis has nothing to do with government-managed programs like parks, libraries, environmental protection, or the motor vehicle agency. But many state legislators still salivate over privatization as a dog hungers for a bone. Privatization – selling a facility, leasing it to a management firm to run, or outsourcing functions such as overseeing Superfund cleanups or reviewing air quality permits -- works only for the corporations, which are really modern-day privateers, and for the politicians who promote their interests. It never works for us.

Take the idea of privatizing our state parks. We paid for these environmentally valuable lands, which get 19 million visitors a year, so the idea of selling or leasing these parks to privateers is anathema to the average citizen. Free parks are in our DNA. And after all, who needs a privateer to watch the taxpayers’ trees grow?

Privateers make their bucks by getting “sweet-heart” contracts through their political friends, fire the government (read “union”) employees to reduce salaries and benefits, reduce services and maintenance, then gradually increase prices and fees – all eventually paid for by the taxpayers.

Privatization already has reared its ugly head in New Jersey. Privateers impose fees, such as for park admissions, which already are being charged by the state; parking fees at state locations are run by politically connected concessionaires; a marina and banquet hall at Liberty State Park with a multi-million dollar view of southern Manhattan is run by a private concessionaire; and a wedding and banquet mill in Ringwood Park, the state’s botanical garden, also is run by a concessionaire. And don’t forget the chaos when DMV’s agencies were run by political hacks or the multi-million dollar fiasco when Parsons took over the inspection stations. Or the almost criminal deterioration of Fort Hancock while the incompetent Park Service fumbled to privatize it.

Why the push to privatize? Well, many conservative politicians are riding a frenetic wave sweeping the country by pushing “starve-the-beast” cuts in social and regulatory programs, ranging from New Jersey’s DEP to Bush’s assault on Social Security.

Second, privatization lets politicians appear to be reducing government costs, as they ignore the state’s real budget problems.

Third, politicians can proclaim that subsequent price increases or reduced services by privateers aren’t their fault. “Hey, we’re not in charge anymore.”

Fourth, politicians get new sources of campaign contributions – the mother’s milk of politics - as very grateful “pay-to-play” privateers contribute to (read “pay off”)  their political benefactors.

So don’t buy into the lie that privatization saves us taxpayers money. We pay dearly in the end.

There is a ray of hope, however. Two bills in the Legislature (SCR131 and ACR150) would protect us from ill-conceived privatization give-aways. I hope enlightened legislators in Trenton can win over their self-serving brethren who regard privatization as God’s 11th Commandment. Call your elected officials and remind them who they are supposed to represent.

 

George Moffatt

Oceanport NJ