Government can do something for the people only in proportion as it can do something to the people.
At this point budget cuts come as no surprise to government-funded programs, and as such they are already looking for ways to circumvent their budget shortfalls. A time-honored and quickly adopted solution is to increase fees associated with the use of such agencies in order to replace lost revenue. While many bemoan the increased cost to use these programs, paying for services rendered represents one of the core tenants of sound economic thinking and should be expanded across the state.
As President Jefferson noted, any service provided by the government “for the people” carries with it certain inherent risks: as citizens utilize government-funded programs they become increasingly reliant on them and expect them to cover more aspects of their lives. It is responsible lawmakers’ duty to maintain individual autonomy and ensure that this does not happen.
Such is the case with the NC Zoo and Aquariums, which are losing significant amounts of revenue through cuts, offset by increased ticket prices. Persons who are interested in visiting these attractions will pay a fee in exchange for these services, a rational idea in a capitalistic society, which in turn reduces the amount of tax revenue injected into these attractions. Furthermore, plans are already in the works to outsource (privatize) several, if not all, of the zoo gift shops, in order to offset expenditures by the state.
This marks a trend that needs to be mirrored and grown upon across the state. Privatization of unnecessary government entities relaxes the tax burden on the people as well as creates jobs and capital through economic ingenuity.
The practice is already in place in other areas, serving as a proof of concept. Mediation centers used in cases of divorce are non-profit, non-state entities, and already charge fees to defray their costs. To minimize costs, the remainder of state funding to these programs (19 percent of operations) is being pulled because of officials’ confidence in their ability to function without government funding or involvement.
Government services that cannot be privatized, such as law enforcement, can also use increased fees to the mutual advantage of both their revenue streams and citizens. As an example, House Bill 662 (“Electronic Monitoring Fees”) would enable counties that use electronic monitoring services to collect a fee from offenders to cover the actual costs of the program. The counties make no profit from the fees, yet can continue to enforce the law while reducing the amount of money required from taxpayers.
Naturally there are some programs that legislators will not privatize. These can quite frequently implement committee or regulatory fees, and there are over 2,700 of them. As these departments look at fee increases they must consider whether their actions will tie the people to government or liberate them to operate freely. It is a basic tenant of free market economics that private businesses and industries create jobs and services more efficiently and effectively than the government can; fee increases should mimic this concept.
Moving forward, the government should work to privatize services by allowing them to charge fees for their services rather than force them to rely on tax dollars to survive and by doing so, free people from government dependence. If one needs a service performed they should pay for it themselves, not cling to the government and force every North Carolinian to provide it for them.
Andrew Blackburn is an intern at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh (nccivitas.org)
This article originally appeared in the Wake Weekly and Lincoln Tribune the week of June 6-10, 2011