New Jersey's new Republican governor, Chris Christie, is creating a commission that will recommend what state government functions could be done better -- and cheaper -- by the private sector. The commission will examine hundreds of regulatory bodies to see which might be closed or privatized as part of the governor's plan to reduce an $11 billion deficit left by his Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine.
Christie may also suspend civil service rules to make it easier to lay off higher paid workers. This would be a switch from the way things are usually done in a state dominated by unions, which demand a last-hired, first-fired priority. The grip of the unions was most recently evident when Corzine instituted a temporary layoff of "nonessential" state workers, but then paid them for their time away when they returned to work. If those employees are nonessential, maybe the commission could start by privatizing them.
Given that it is New Jersey, watch for the predictable hyperbole from the left with forecasts of starving poor, homeless seniors and irreparable harm to children. Republicans have never developed an effective strategy for countering this long-running political road show. Maybe Gov. Christie will.
Privatization is nothing new. Ancient civilizations dating back to pre-Roman times practiced it. More recently, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher succeeded in reducing the size and cost of her government by selling-off entities like British Telecom and British Rail to private companies. Thatcher's policies brought in revenue to the treasury, reduced the size and cost of government and cut the bloated civil service from 732,000 employees when she took office in 1979, to 500,000 in 1997 when Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority.
Other governments followed Thatcher's lead, some having begun the process before she took office. They sold airports, railroads, utilities and other assets. The first question became: can the private sector run these things better, more efficiently and at less cost than government? In most cases, the answer was a resounding "yes."
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