Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Budget Cutting & Innovation

As our region’s governments experience the consequences of budget cutting, it is crucial to remember what is the real public issue, which this article from Governing addresses.

An excerpt.

“Budget cutting requires a unique skill set. Public officials have to think creatively about how to ensure needed public services get delivered. This means thinking outside the usual parameters regarding how to simply sustain government processes.

“Or, as former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo once put it, "It is not a government's obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided."…

“Officials must continue to diligently work to reform governmental systems and make sure they are funded as completely as possible. At the same time, officials must look at the issue from the broader frame of the public's access to important services….

“When I was struggling with how to improve the public schools in Indianapolis, economist Milton Friedman warned me not to confuse the purpose of a public service with its provision. In the case of education, Friedman reminded me that charter schools and vouchers were totally acceptable ways to provide children with public education.

“And so it goes as we explore transportation, or homeless services, or medical or emergency care. If we can't maintain government services in the traditional way, we have an obligation to look at how to make the market work better in other ways to serve residents.

“We need to remember, for example, that the goal isn't to provide bus service but to ensure mobility for residents. Our goal isn't to run schools, but to provide education.

“When thinking of how to do this, we need to think if there are private or nonprofit providers that could extend their service if government would reduce market barriers or provide subsidies.

“In general, it is best to politically separate those who currently provide a service from those who might oversee such an expansion. Organizations responsible for primarily providing a service tend not to be very good at licensing and/or subsidizing their competition. Local schools boards, for example, rarely approve charters that will compete for "their" students.”