Democratic Perspective continued our conversation with AZ House Minority Leader, Chad Campbell. This week, the subject was privatization. According to Campbell, privatization sometimes makes sense, but you need to look at each situation carefully. For example, he talked about the problems of privatizing prisons which resulted in last year‘s prison break leading to the murder of several innocent people.
“The system went horribly wrong,” he said. “The breakdown was astonishing. And the lack of oversight was horrible. Anytime you commoditize something like a prison, you open yourself up to bigger risks like public safety. We want to make sure that we’re not opening more private prisons because of the safety issue,” he continued. “There’s this myth out there that private prisons are cheaper than public prisons. That they always save the state money. That’s simply not the case,” he said. “Even the Department of Correction’s own study that came out about two months ago shows that private prisons are actually costing the state more money than public prisons.
Private prisons get to cherry pick the prisoners they take in. They don’t take in high risk prisoners. They don’t take in prisoners with health problems. And, if their prisoners develop health problems, they push them back to public prisons. They’re taking the cheapest prisoners and they’re providing them with some of the lowest security possible – very low staff to prisoner ratios – and they’re jeopardizing the public,” says Campbell.
“I haven’t seen any study yet that shows private prisons save states money. Unless, of course, the study has been funded by a private prison company,” he said. “It’s time to put an end to this really horrible practice in the state of Arizona.”
According to Campbell, when it comes to privatization, you have to look at the facts. “Each case has to be looked at on an individual basis and decide if it’s going to save money or not, and whether it’s going to provide an effective service or not.,” he said. “There are some things the government shouldn’t do like running food services at state parks. It may make sense to privatize rest stops, too. We need to research each issue.,” he continued.
Unfortunately not everyone agrees. “The Republican response is that privatization is always good,“ says Campbell. “They see this financial crisis as an opportunity to decimate the public sector at all costs. “The problem is that you have people down here who are not looking at the facts. They’re simply sticking to an ideology. We need people using common sense and making tough decisions based on facts.”
This attitude carried over into recent budget cuts. “The biggest victim of cuts is public education,” said Campbell. “And it’s amazing to me that people don’t think about what they’re doing. Rather than think about long term economic solutions for the state, they’re taking the easy road. In the process, they’re jeopardizing the future. They’re laying off thousands of hard-working teachers, forcing them to take unemployment, forcing them on welfare. The legislature is led by people who want to gut public education. That is their goal,” he continued.
“The majority party doesn’t let many minority bills get through,” he said. “That’s the symptom of a broken system. I would hope, at some point, we can have a debate about the issues and not just politics,” says Campbell.
He pointed to an incident that took place in the last session. “I introduced a bill that would have lowered the corporate tax rate because I do believe it was too high,” Campbell said. “But I would have been closing some of the bad tax credits and some of the bad programs to pay for it, as opposed to the Speaker’s bill which lowered all the tax rates and threw away about a billion dollars a year. My bill got the endorsement of Bob Robb, the conservative columnist of the Arizona Republic. He said my bill was better than the Speaker’s bill. But it didn’t even get a hearing because it was a minority bill” Campbell continued.
“I believe it’s a very broken system. We need political courage from the Governor’s office down to the legislature,“ he concluded.