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Privatization of State Services in Massachusetts: Politics, Policy, and an Experiment That Wasn’t

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Privatization of government services, or the use of the private sector to attain public goals, took center stage in the “reinventing government” era of the early 1990s as federal, state, and local government attempted to reform service delivery and lower cost. Perhaps nowhere was privatization pursued more eagerly and with more fanfare than in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, under the leadership of Republican Governor William Weld. If privatization were to succeed this was to be the arena.

But the enthusiasm of the gubneratorial privatization initiative was met by an equally strong cynicism spread throughout the Democratically controlled state legislature and within organized labor. The resulting clash of interests, filtered through the political system, highlighted weaknesses in the privatization approach and ultimately produced a rational policy for making privatization decisions. Other governments could benefit from a review of the Massachusetts privatization experience, and the purpose of this report is to provide that analysis.