Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dr. Reinhart's Prescription for Bend's Ills

Posted By on Sun, Jun 13, 2010 at 6:12 PM

Troy Reinhart, the president of the Bend Chamber of Commerce, has written a two-page document titled “Saving Bend Through Government Innovation.” As you might expect from a conservative Chamber of Commerce president, Reinhart thinks “government innovation” mostly means shrinking government and turning its functions over to private business.

Some of Reinhart’s ideas are simple common sense – such as looking into whether the City of Bend, Deschutes County, the Bend Metro Parks & Recreation District and the Bend-LaPine School District can consolidate some services to “stop duplications and pool valuable resources.”

Others, though, are worrisome. For instance, Reinhart believes the city needs to “remove roadblocks to growth” by developing “a timetable [and] a deadline to identify and eliminate regulations and processes that unnecessarily inhibit business and job development.”

What “regulations and processes” does Reinhart have in mind? He doesn’t say – but I bet land use regulations of any kind would be high on the list.

Perhaps it would be rude to point out that five or six years ago Bend was growing like a toadstool in a cow patty despite the supposed “roadblocks” created by big bad gummint – and that the roadblock to growth in Bend today is not government regulation, but the fact that we built too many houses and commercial properties and now hardly anybody wants to buy them.

“How much money could be saved by privatizing services such as the Bend Water System, Sewer System, and Emergency Services (ambulance service)?” Reinhart asks. “Can the Public Works Department be improved through outsourcing?”

These suggestions are rooted in the conservative dogma that anything government can do, private business can do better. Maybe sometimes that’s true – but our recent experience with the collapse of the financial sector and our even more recent experience with British Petroleum’s monumental screw-up in the Gulf of Mexico ought to make us a little skeptical.

Another of Reinhart’s bright ideas is “a City Charter-incorporated cap on the level of public sector employment spending versus private sector employment earnings.” In other words, when private payrolls shrink the city would have to lay off workers and/or cut pay too.

At first glance that looks sensible, but the trouble is that the need for public services doesn’t go away in hard economic times. Kids still have to go to school, the cops still have to catch bad guys, the firefighters still have to put out fires. In fact, the need for some government services increases when times get tough.

Reinhart’s concluding proposals are that “all excess [city] property should be sold to the private sector” and “Juniper Ridge should be sold to a developer as industrial property to reduce city costs and future expenditures, while ensuring the project remains consistent with the Juniper Ridge Master Plan.”

The city inevitably will bail out of Juniper Ridge, as I and others predicted when the city dumped Ray Kuratek and Jeff Holzman as master developers back in 2008. The city will unload the property at a fire-sale price – after paying for the planning and  much of the infrastructure – and the private purchaser will skim off the gravy.

Socialize the costs and privatize the profits – it’s the Bend way.

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