Over the last decade or so the state has become an incubator of sorts for the conservative government policy commonly called outsourcing.
Steered by the Florida Legislature and three consecutive Republican governors, Florida has been turning over more and more state functions to private entities, arguing they can deliver the services just as effectively as state employees, but for less money.
The legislature’s regular session doesn’t start until March 5 but it’s clear already that the GOP-controlled House and Senate chambers are poised to stay the course; giving more public school money to for-profit charter schools, putting more of the state’s Medicaid recipients and the associated state and federal funding into the hands of private health insurers and outsourcing more operations within the state prison and mental health systems.
It would appear that if there’s any private entity inside or outside Florida willing, for a small fee of course, to assume what has historically been a state function, the state is more than happy to make a deal.
This moving of public money into private coffers, however, is a form of government welfare and one might even call it “wealth redistribution.”
Only instead of redistributing it from the rich to the poor, elderly or disabled, it’s going from all of us to the wealthy, influential and powerful companies lobbying our state representatives for a slice of that government cheese.
Just as our federal income taxes support food stamps and other welfare programs, the many and varied funding mechanisms that supply revenue to the state (including sales taxes, gas taxes, business taxes, gambling taxes) often support a select group of private for-profit and nonprofit corporations.
Some, I’m sure, do good work for the state, and by extension us taxpayers. Others are paid millions of dollars to do shabby work on behalf of taxpayers.
Take the Tallahassee-based technology company Spider Data Services, for example.
It was paid $5.5 million in public money via a no-bid contract with former senate president Mike Haridopolis to build a “transparency” website for state government documents. Low and behold, access to the site was restricted to top legislative leaders, not rank and file members or the general public. To do that, the company wanted another $1 million per year to maintain the site with expanded access.
To his credit, Governor Scott and others like new senate president Don Gaetz have been reluctant to pour more money into a shady deal and the company’s contract expired December 31.
Still, that’s a hefty chunk of change to basically squander. And get this — the state already had two transparency websites when Spider Data built the third one.
Despite years of outsourcing in Tallahassee, ostensibly to save taxpayers money, Florida’s spending has continued to balloon.
Since 2000, when control of the governor’s mansion went to Republicans (the legislature has been under GOP control since 1996), total expenditures through 2011 have nearly doubled from $45.2 billion to $84.6 billion, according to the U.S. Census bureau.
That’s a jump of 87 percent.
Meanwhile, Florida’s population has risen only 20 percent during that time and inflation rose 30 percent nationally.
Would spending have risen just as much or more without the state privatizing so many of its responsibilities? Maybe so.
But pretending these policies are benefiting Floridians in any significant way is a farce designed to mask the reality that we all dine on government largesse in one way or another.
I won’t pretend that government isn’t at times inefficient, slow to change and wasteful.
All too often, however, it seems our state leaders are more concerned with finding the most efficient way to steer public money into private hands, without regard for whether those hands can deliver superior services or actually save taxpayers money.