• Higher costs to consumers
• Project cost overruns and other hidden costs to government
• Government costs of managing and monitoring contracts
• Hidden costs to the community
The most popular reason for privatization is the promise of cost savings. This is especially pronounced in difficult economic conditions, when elected officials are faced with serious budget shortfalls. Officials at all levels of government have considered selling off state assets for quick cash or privatizing important services in the hopes of saving money. But communities across the country have found that investors pay low prices for valuable assets to cash-strapped governments, then impose steep fee increases on consumers or other measures to maximize their income from the asset. In many cases, the money received from a 50- to 99-year asset concession lease may fill budget holes for the coming year but fall far short of the actual long-term value.
Likewise, cost overruns in large service contracts can negate any projected savings. The costs of managing and monitoring the contract and hidden transactional costs often are not included in the calculations of projected savings, distorting the true cost of the contract. Increased costs may also appear as hidden cost to the community. For example, government jobs often include health benefits that are lost when the jobs are outsourced to private companies. As a result, more workers may need to rely on the government, thus increasing government costs. Many of the private employees who take these jobs receive lower wages and little or no benefits. Several recent studies have measured the increased use of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Medicaid programs when workers are denied living wages and health benefits. The cost saving projections that governments use to justify privatization decisions are often incomplete and erroneous. As numerous examples have confirmed, privatization of assets and services often fails to have the desired budgetary effect that many corporations lead governments to expect.
ITPI recently released a new backgrounder brief that discusses the high costs of privatization. Read it here.
By Phineas Baxandall
In ancient times, rulers relied on a practice now known as "tax farming" in which tax collection was outsourced to other groups or individuals who maintained order in particular areas and passed on revenue to the monarch. The abuse that resulted from this system is thought to be one reason for the fall of the Roman Empire.Read more »