Monday, October 20, 2008

State of the Union

Yesterday, according to City Room, a number of municipal unions came out in support of our billionaire mayor-reinforcing the old bedfellows saw about politics. One union, the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, particularly caught our eye: "Mr. Nespoli, President, Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, was not shy about the role of self-interest in the term limits debate. The current law, restricting legislators to eight years in office, is detrimental to unions, he suggested..."

Indeed it is; and we would say that the mayor's cozy relationship with the garbage collectors has been detrimental to the public's interest. Think of how much money the tax payers could be saving if the garbage collection routes were put out to bid-and competition created heretofore unrealized savings.

Here's the City Journal's original take on the reinvention concept put forward by Osborne and Gaebler some 15 years ago: "The authors maintain that the realization of this ambitious goal is uncontroversial and within grasp. The central problem of governments today, they write, is “not what they do, but how they operate.” Debates about “what government should do, and for whom” are “secondary today.”

As it should also be today-but we still haven't weaned ourselves from the top heavy, bureaucratic approach, and embraced the O&G concept of steering rather than rowing: "The class of managerial reinventions with the best potential for more than marginal benefits is privatization. Broadly defined, privatization is the deliberate shift of a wide range of public functions and activities from public to private hands. “Government should steer, not row, the boat” is the privatization movement’s rallying cry, echoed by Osborne and Gaebler."

The benefits devolve from the level of competition: "Osborne and Gaebler provide a reasoned, balanced discussion of contracting out. Although this form of privatization has few strong opponents (public employee unions aside), there are plenty of skeptics doubtful about the scope and magnitude of its potential benefits. The authors note that the potential of contracting out derives not from any inherent superiority of private over public production, but from the power of competitive markets. The benefits, therefore, diminish with diminished competition."

Which brings us to garbage collection. Certainly an innovative and self-funded billionaire with no political ties or obligations could have gone in this privatizing direction; especially after 9/11. Bloomberg, however, didn't have the imagination, and was surrounded by a bunch of old style, big government types who had a trained incapacity to respond in anything but a knee jerk fashion. As a result, we're left with the old and tired service cuts/tax increase playbook.

So the support that the mayor sought and received yesterday from the unions was certainly was bought and paid for-with the public's hard earned tax dollars. What's disquieting, is the silence from the editorialists who are always inveighing against the power of municipal labor. The editorial chorus has laryngitis when it comes to Brother Michael.