Senate kills Bellows bill to protect taxpayer dollars from bogus privatization schemes
AUGUSTA — Majority Republicans in the Maine Senate on Monday voted on party lines to kill a bill by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, that would have safeguarded taxpayer dollars by tightening requirements on privatization of existing state services.
Three Republicans — Sens. Scott Cyrway of Benton, Lisa Keim of Dixfield and Tom Saviello of Wilton — voted with their party to oppose the legislation despite signing on as co-sponsors when the bill was introduced.
“Privatization can be a sensible policy for the provision of important public services, but it can also be an unnecessary and ineffective arrangement that costs taxpayer dollars and hinders the public good,” said Sen. Bellows. “This vote is a real disappointment. Mainers deserve to know that if the state is going to privatize important public services, the end result actually benefits the people of Maine and not just the bottom line of private contractors.”
The bill — LD 213, “An Act to Protect Taxpayers in the Privatization of State Services” — was modelled on a successful law that’s been on the books in Massachusetts for 25 years. The bill would have required contractors to meet several criteria proving that privatization is in the public interest before receiving a contract to perform duties previously handled by state employees.
Those criteria are: maintenance of the same or better quality of service; reduced cost to the taxpayer, including potential tax revenue changes as a result of privatization; and a proven track record of compliance with state and federal health and safety laws.
Sen. Bellows submitted the bill after several high-profile problems with the provision of state services by private contractors.
For example, the state outsourced a bridge painting job in Portland to a firm that didn’t understand lead paint removal, resulting in significant site contamination and increased cleanup costs to the state and the taxpayers and an environmental and health hazard. It also awarded an out-of-state company with a contract to operate the state’s largest and most heavily trafficked drawbridge, which had been operated by state employees for years.
The contract saved zero dollars for Maine taxpayers, and the company immediately advertised job openings stating “no experience required.” Lastly, the state outsourced the administration of several welfare programs to an out-of-state company that has been sued at least a dozen times in state and federal court in less than five years for workplace discrimination, wage, disability and personal injury disputes. Oversight of the contract will cost the state more money that maintaining the service in-house.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for an initial vote.