Commentary

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 Senior Managing Director of the Pension Integrity Project at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. The Pension Integrity Project assists policymakers and other stakeholders in designing, analyzing and implementing public sector pension reforms.

The project aims to promote solvent, sustainable retirement systems that provide retirement security for government workers while reducing taxpayer and pension system exposure to financial risk and reducing long-term costs for employers/taxpayers and employees. The project team provides education, reform policy options, and actuarial analysis for policymakers and stakeholders to help them design reform proposals that are practical and viable.

In 2016 and 2017, Reason's Pension Integrity Project helped design, negotiate and draft pension reforms for the state of Arizona's Public Safety Personnel Retirement System and Corrections Officer Retirement Plan, which both passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the state legislature and were signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey.

Gilroy is also the Director of Government Reform at Reason Foundation, researching privatization, public-private partnerships, infrastructure and urban policy issues.

Gilroy has a diversified background in policy research and implementation, with particular emphases on competition, government efficiency, transparency, accountability, and government performance. Gilroy has worked closely with legislators and elected officials in Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia, California and several other states and local governments in efforts to design and implement market-based policy approaches, improve government performance, enhance accountability in government programs, and reduce government spending.

In 2010 and 2011, Gilroy served as a gubernatorial appointee to the Arizona Commission on Privatization and Efficiency, and in 2010 he served as an advisor to the New Jersey Privatization Task Force, created by Gov. Chris Christie.

Gilroy is the editor of the widely-read Annual Privatization Report, which examines trends and chronicles the experiences of local, state, and federal governments in bringing competition to public services. Gilroy also edits Reason's Innovators in Action interview series, which profiles public sector innovators in their own words, including former U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani and more.

Gilroy's articles have been featured in such leading publications as The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, The Weekly Standard, Washington Times, Houston Chronicle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Arizona Republic, San Francisco Examiner, San Diego Union-Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sacramento Bee and The Salt Lake Tribune. He has also appeared on CNN, Fox News Channel, Fox Business, CNBC, National Public Radio and other media outlets.

Prior to joining Reason, Gilroy was a senior planner at a Louisiana-based urban planning consulting firm. He also worked as a research assistant at the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech. Gilroy earned a B.A. and M.A. in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Tech.