Last week I received the notice that every American fears most at this time of year. It was a slip of paper included with my mail informing me that the United States Postal Service had attempted to deliver a package.
I had two options. I could leave the notice for the postal carrier and request a second attempt at delivery at some future undetermined date or — shudder — I could actually go to the post office and try to retrieve my parcel. I immediately recalled the words of the late economic commentator Louis Rukeyser “Fifteen cents of every twenty-cent stamp goes for storage.”
But the item was needed ASAP so the next morning I put on my game face and entered the post office shortly after the doors opened. There were eight people in front of me for the one open window. Not too bad I thought and in twenty-five minutes it was my turn.
Smiling I approached the window with my slip of paper. I was greeted with dead eyes. I had seen that look before but couldn’t remember whether it was at DMV or the city clerk’s office. Thoughts of zombies flashed through my mind as I explained my mission (trying to be as polite as possible so as not to offend the woman behind the counter who was my only option — there was still only one window open).
She stared at my scrap of paper for a few seconds saying nothing and then with what seemed a great effort got up from her stool and meandered out of the room to an unseen location in the back. I glanced around. There were now nearly 50 people in line behind me.
While waiting my hearing became acute. Behind me there was the sound of shuffling feet papers and parcels but no one spoke. Somewhere in an unseen area on the other side of the counter two postal employees were discussing who would take a break and when.
After what seemed an eternity the woman returned and informed me that her computer showed that my package had been delivered. Despite my protestations she just shook her head. Leaving without success I took the time to count the number victims of postal service now in line — sixty-three.
Is bad service from a monopolistic government controlled provider a unique experience? Just ask yourself the last time you had direct contact with a government agency that had you remarking on how efficient and polite the employees were. It has happened — rarely — and when it does it is such an unusual experience you’re left in shock.
Clearly private businesses whose management knows their customers have the option to go elsewhere make a greater effort to please. And in an effort to survive in a competitive marketplace they are under constant pressure to provide good service at a reasonable price.
So here is the question a question that has been asked many times before but will not go away. Why aren’t our elected representatives constantly looking for ways to provide better public services at a lower cost by using the initiative and resourcefulness of the private sector?
Are there savings to be had? Here is one example: A study of privatizing some prison related services conducted by the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation earlier this year revealed $1.2 billion in potential annual savings. Every other function of state government should be reviewed in an aggressive manner for similar economies.
Certainly there is serious potential to save taxpayer dollars as well as improve customer satisfaction for those who must deal with state government by increasing the participation of private firms in providing government services.
Two decades ago then New York Governor Mario Cuomo a Democrat stated “It is not a government’s obligation to provide services but to see that they are provided.”
We hope Jerry Brown is listening to the echoes of those words.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.