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Arizona seeks controls on PPPs

By Henry Lamb
web posted February 18, 2008

Six Arizona State Senators have introduced SB1398 to put controls on Public/Private Partnership(s) entered into by the Governor and state agencies.  The bill, if enacted, will require "any state department or agency or any political subdivision of this state…" to clearly define the agreement in writing, specifying the responsibilities and benefits of each party; disclose the agreement and any contributions made by either party; obtain approval of the agreement from the appropriate legislative committee, or other legislative body; disclose the information on a public website; and include a sunset provision for the agreement.   The bill will also prohibit PPPs from lobbying.

This action arises directly from the Governor's refusal to answer WND's questions about the Governor's Public/Private Partnership with the Arizona Mexico Commission.

This "commission" is not a commission at all, but a private, not-for-profit 501(c)(4) organization.  The organization's offices are located a few floors below the Governor's office in a state-owned office building.  The Governor's office was asked if there existed a written agreement between the state and the organization; how much rent the organization paid to the state for its office space, and whether the state provided any funding to the organization.  The Governor refused to answer these questions.

State legislators asked the Auditor General to audit the Arizona Mexico Commission and were told that an audit was not possible, since the AMC is a private entity.

The Governor also maintains an "Office of Sonora," which was created expressly for the purpose of helping to implement NAFTA.  But the occupant of the office, Luis Burbon, says he has nothing to do with NAFTA. His work is assisting Mexican nationals in the U.S.  The Auditor General was asked to audit this office.  He said he could not, because it is within the Governor's office.   Burbon's salary is paid by the government of Sonora.  Sonora provides a similar office to the state of Arizona in Sonora.

The function of the Arizona Mexico Commission is to "harmonize" rules and regulations between Arizona and Sonora.  Its work is done through committees that consist primarily of state agency heads and business leaders.  There is virtually no oversight nor involvement by elected representatives in the decisions made by these committees. 

The proposed legislation will provide this oversight and involvement by the state legislature, and by elected representatives of any city or town that may wish to enter into a Public/Private Partnership.

Similar legislation should be enacted by every state legislature, and by Congress.   The use of PPPs has expanded dramatically throughout governments at every level.  They are typically devised by bureaucrats to achieve the goals of an agency of government while bypassing review or approval by elected representatives, and thereby, avoid accountability.

The USDA has used this technique quite effectively to enter into "agreements" with organizations such as the Future Farmers of America, which received $633,000 in exchange for promoting USDA's National Animal Identification System to school children. 

Were these agreements subject to the provisions of the Arizona bill, Congress would have to approve these agreements, they would have to be posted on a public website, with full disclosure of monies paid, and a time-certain specified for termination.  Had all of USDA's PPPs been subjected to these requirements, the public would have had the opportunity to express their opinion to their elected representatives.  The public, of course, rarely knows about these agreements until their effect is felt.

PPPs are a tool that agencies and bureaucrats use to bypass the legislative process.  Legislation is slow, and boisterous. The process always draws debate and, often, controversy.  Legislation is never certain.  That's why the executive branch of government, at all levels, works hard to find ways to avoid the process whenever possible.  The legislative process, however, is the genius of the American system.  Only elected representatives should make public policy.  Only the executive branch should administer the policy.

Legislators, too, can lose sight of their mission and meddle into the executive function.  Arizona's Governor may think that SB1398 is legislative meddling.  But when PPPs such as the Arizona Mexico Commission, or, at the federal level, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, have the authority to change public policy through the "harmonization" of regulations, without oversight or involvement of elected officials, it is certainly appropriate for the legislative branch to come to the rescue of the public.  Arizona's legislature is to be commended for its insight and the courage to take on the Governor on this issue. 

Their example is worthy of emulation by every state in the country.ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.


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