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San Diego Pols Still Ignoring Voters' Managed Competition Mandate

Leonard Gilroy
August 22, 2009, 4:37pm

As San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio writes in yesterday's San Diego Daily Transcript, it's been 1,000 days since city voters approved a ballot proposition directing city officials to adopt a managed competition program, allowing the city to save money by allowing public employees to bid against private companies for contracts to provide city services. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter who wins the bid—taxpayers win either way, as the competitive nature of the procurement works to drive down costs.

The results in San Diego thus far? Well...nada. As DeMaio writes, the process is bogged down in labor negotiations and politics and hasn't gotten off the ground. He offers some good examples of no-brainer areas that are ripe for competition:

If Managed Competitions were implemented, the city of San Diego could go through city departments and compare their functions with services offered by businesses listed in the Yellow Pages. When a function can be bid with the outside market, there is a potential for taxpayers to save substantial money.

For example, the city maintains a print shop that manages all printing done by city departments. They set a rate and city departments must pay it. There is no second opinion or a competitive bid. As a result, the city print shop has run a deficit in each of the last five years.

Auto maintenance is another example of where a managed competition could save taxpayer dollars. The city of San Diego currently has more than 250 employees working on auto maintenance. These employees change oil, rotate tires and fix engines. In 2004 we calculated the cost of auto maintenance in the city's police department at a surprising $8,848 per vehicle per year -- not including gas and the cost of purchasing these vehicles.

Read the whole thing. For some good places to start, city leaders should see Reason Foundation's 2007 study on managed competition opportunities in San Diego (produced in partnership with the San Diego Institute for Policy Research), which outlined 11 areas of city government ripe for managed competition, including: copying and printing, vehicle maintenance, golf courses, libraries, permit processing, waste services, water and wastewater operations, information technology services, facility maintenance, street maintenance, and parks & recreation.

In the article, DeMaio proposes that the San Diego leaders commit to subject at least 10 percent of the city budget to managed competition over the next year. This sounds like an acceptable place to start to me, given that voters already told politicians to get this done a long time ago. As DeMaio writes:

You may have heard this well-known phrase before: justice delayed is justice denied. In this case, after more than 1,000 days, democracy delayed is democracy denied. It's time that city politicians implement Proposition C to respect the will of the people and save millions in taxpayer funds.

It says something about the nature of the public spending addiction that policymakers can't even manage to break the grip of labor and politics and start applying competition to reduce spending in a fiscal crisis—even when there's been a clear and direct mandate of the voters to do so.

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Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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