Out of Control Policy Blog

Printing Isn't a Core Government Function, So Just Privatize It Already

A Washington State legislator wants to get the state out of the printing business:

Democratic Sen. Rodney Tom of Medina said he wants to abolish the 100-worker shop because agencies can use desktop printers for small materials and private companies if they need brochures or reports printed.

His Senate Bill 6867 is one piece of his goal of transforming state government over the next few years – including a push to put more, if not all, of the state’s liquor distribution and sales into private hands. Tom also is pursuing legislation to combine three natural-resource agencies – including Fish and Wildlife and state parks – by sharing some office space and functions.

"We're going to have to resize the footprint of government," Tom said in an interview. "We're looking at areas that are not critical core services. … Everybody does desktop printing these days. It's not like 30 years ago when you had a steno pool and printers, but we're still stuck in that age."

According to The Olympian, the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on this yesterday, in which:

Owen Linch of the Teamsters and Gail Love of the Communications Workers of American opposed Senate Bill 6867. Linch said the state has the "best of both worlds" with a print agency that allows jobs done in-house but with the option of going to private firms when a better price can be gained.

In a state nearly $3 billion in the red, the unions think Washington can afford to have the "best of both worlds"?? Sounds to me like this should be considered a convenience then. The state is paying public employees bloated salaries and benefits to have a "public option" in printing—an utterly non-essential government function in the era of FedExKinko's, the Internet and $200 laser printers.

Worse, by setting up its own non-essential, non-core printing enterprise, the government print shop directly competes against private sector printers, and affront to capitalism. And future taxpayers are burdened paying for the unsustainable pension and health benefits for these non-essential employees. Luckily folks like Sen. Tom see that this is no way to prioritize first things first in a time of fiscal crisis.

Washington Senate Bill 6867 is here, and here's how it starts:

The legislature finds that technological changes have decreased the need for a central state printer. Information to citizens is increasingly being provided in electronic formats, which is both cost-effective and saves natural resources. Additionally, as printing technologies have changed, they have become within the reach of most agencies to conduct their own printing. The legislature also finds that printing is not a core state service and would be better handled within the private sector. To that end, the legislature is eliminating the state printer.

(Hat tip: Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center)

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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