Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Aquarium and Zoo Privatization

Can the private sector run an aquarium or zoo better than the state?

Here are two articles: one from the Star News Online from February 14, 2012, and the other from The Freeman Online published nearly ten years ago, in 1993. The juxtaposition of the two articles is a reminder that the fiscal troubles state governments' are facing are by no means novel.

In the first article: State Eyeing Privatization for Aquariums, describes North Carolina's proposal to outsource aquarium and zoo operations. The author is skeptical whether privatizing the state's aquariums is a good move for aquarium patrons and whether the privatization will actually cost the state any less tax dollars in the end. The author points out that, "North Carolina is the only Southeastern state that owns and operates an aquarium or a zoo, and that Minnesota is the only other state in the country that owns and operates a zoo at all . . ."

The second article: Zoo, Inc., diverges from the first by taking an optimistic view of zoo and aquarium privatization as an answer to a state's budget shortfalls. The article points out the pros of financial independence in zoo management and the history of private zoos in America.

While it is unclear in the first article whether North Carolina plans to partner with the private company long term or whether the goal is for the aquariums to be completely self-supporting. The second article brings a perspective (though dated) to these unanswered questions.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Privatized Parking in Sacramento?

This article in the Sacramento Bee describes the city's current lurch toward privatization of its parking meters.  Only two other major cities in America have experimented  with privatization of parking - Chicago, where it was a disaster, and Indianapolis, touted as the example for others to follow even though parking fees immediately doubled.  Pittsburgh tried to privatize its parking but could not find a high enough bidder.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Recommended Reading: The Privatization Trap

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute has posted a great article on Salon: The Privatization Trap.  Highly recommended.  Here is a nice sample:

"Privatization is one of the few political projects that enjoys bipartisan support: Conservatives cheer the rollback of the state, and liberals like to claim that the virtues of the free market are being used towards the egalitarian ends of public policy. The fraud and waste that often come with outsourcing these services has been well-documented. The private management in Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the lobbying efforts of corporate prisons have all provided horror stories of what happens when cronyism guides decision-making on behalf of the state. But privatization as standard government practice has problems that go far beyond the abuses of any single incident.
 Rather than solving problems with government, privatization often amplifies those issues to new extremes. Instead of unleashing market innovation, it often introduces new parasitic partners into the decision-making process. Instead of providing a check on the power of the government, it allows the state to circumvent constitutional and democratic accountability measures by merging with the private sector. And ultimately, the practice replaces the set of choices and constraints found in democracy, with another set found in the marketplace. Today’s political conversation is blind to these problems out of a mistaken faith in the efficiency and fundamental equality of markets, contrasted to the ineffectiveness and corruptibility of the state."