Legislation Seeks to Crack Down on Government Competing With the Private Sector

North Dakota Public Service Commission members (from left) Randy Christmann, Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kalk listen during a work session on the proposed Brady Wind Energy Center in Stark County on Friday, May 6, 2016, at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service

Should the government be in competition with the private sector?

I think the immediate answer most would have to that question would be “no,” but it happens a lot. The government often provides services, both for itself and the public, which are also provided by the private sector. Finding the appropriate level of taxpayer-funded services is at the heart of most politics.

Legislation being considered in Bismarck this session would allow citizens to petition state government to challenge public services competing with private services. The bill is HB1162, introduced by Rep. Nathan Toman of Mandan.

An excerpt:

Petitioners to the three-member PSC could appeal any decisions to district court. Existing government services under contract would be grandfathered in until the end of the current agreements. It also states that unless a given state agency can provide a “compelling public interest” to provide a particular service the policy of the state will be to contract with private companies.

The legislation has a committee hearing today. It will be interesting to see how state agencies and lawmakers react to it.

It’s certainly an interesting concept. What I like is that it provides a mechanism which will force the state to justify the services it provides when challenged, yet still allows for government services I think most of us find agreeable.

I don’t see this bill letting a private security firm end taxpayer-funded law enforcement, for instance. Or Barnes & Noble getting public libraries shut down. I think we can all agree that there is a compelling public interest behind those sort of initiatives.

But what about street sweeping? Or snow removal? Does it make sense for those services to be provided by the state? Or would it be better to contract with the private sector?

I don’t know. It’s a debate worth having. One all the more possible if this sort of legislation were in place.

As long as this bill isn’t going to open the door to litigation which will move the debate over what is and is not a good and proper public service from the legislative chambers to the courts. I’d like to hear the bill sponsors address that con

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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