Privatization of Printing Services Jammed in Washington State

Following up on this post last month, the Washington state legislature seems to be dropping the ball entirely on the privatization of state printing services. You’d think that in a time of fiscal crisis, this sort of common sense approach to pruning utterly non-essential appendages (dustbunnies, really) from state government would be a no-brainer, as this excellent editorial today in The Spokesman-Review explains:

It’s not a huge part of Washington state’s budget, but the survival of the Department of Printing after two years of draconian budget cutting shows just how difficult it can be to eradicate nonessential government services.

The agency was founded in 1854, but it has outlived its usefulness as a core function of government. With the advent of the Internet, e-mail, desktop printers and scores of private printing businesses, its door ought to be shuttered and its equipment put up for sale.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, introduced a bill that do just that. He says the agency, which is budgeted at $10 million annually, is as dated as stenographer pools. Most state workers can complete the task by pressing the print function on their computers. If the print job requires more sophistication, agencies can send their work to private businesses.

However, some legislators want to keep the agency, but they do agree that cuts are in order. Rep. Zach Hudgins, D-Tukwila, authored a bill that would move the agency into the Department of Information Services. Gov. Chris Gregoire has suggested the same to consolidate administrative staffs. The bill would also call for the printing office to reduce its wide array of envelope colors and sizes to just a few. The savings would amount to an estimated $3 million.

Predictably, business interests have testified for the abolition of the office, and public employee unions have supported its survival. The agency employs about 100 workers after cutting 20 jobs early this year. By outsourcing the work, the state would save millions of dollars in compensation and pension costs.

But both bills are probably dead because the House and Senate cannot agree on the best course, according to the Olympian newspaper’s political editor, Brad Shannon. Amazingly, this could mean that the agency has skirted any legislatively directed budget-cutting efforts in a year when taxes will be raised and such essential services as health care and vital safety net programs will take devastating hits.

We honestly can’t feign disbelief because the budget crisis hasn’t triggered the privatization of liquor sales or forced the reopening of employee contracts either.

State leaders profess to follow the “priorities of government” model, but how can that be taken seriously when something as nonessential and dated as the print shop passes the test?

Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2009
Reason Foundation’s Privatization Research and Commentary