The dangers of giving taxpayer dollars to private companies 

Loss of Control

Last week, Charleston County School District bus drivers — citing concerns over the safety and maintenance of buses, along with an insufficient pay raise and inadequate health coverage — voted to authorize a strike in case they don't like the contract their employer, Durham School Services, is set to offer them in the coming weeks. The vote passed by a resounding 186–0 and was met with displeasure by the types of folks who share their displeasure on the Facebook pages for local media outlets.

Of course, CCSD only has itself to blame for these dastardly union thugs who are daring to strike for better pay, safety, and healthcare. After all, the county is one of only two school districts in South Carolina that does not rely on the state Department of Education for student transportation. In fact, South Carolina is the only state in the nation that actually still manages a statewide fleet. We're also a state where public workers are not allowed to unionize. However, since the bus drivers for the school district are technically not employees of the state — they work for a private company — they are free to unionize. This places the governor, and conservatives in general, in a particularly amusing spot.

It would be easy to claim that Gov. Nikki Haley, who promised to return control of school buses to local school districts, is secretly trying to unionize bus drivers, but that would be ridiculous. Truth be told, Haley is more interested in finding new ways to put taxpayer dollars into the hands of privately held companies, and privatizing school buses is the next best thing to privatizing the entire school system.

Even though proponents of privatization claim that competition encourages lower costs, lowering costs is not beneficial to anyone in the long run except the person that the state writes the checks to. Competition forces transportation companies to find ways to cut costs, and cutting costs invariably finds its way into cutting essentials. Maybe this year the drivers are asked to accept a lower pay raise, or not get one at all. The next year, maybe their health insurance premiums rise. Or maybe the company decides that four inspections a year is two too many. After all, fewer inspections means finding fewer things wrong, and that means there are fewer things to fix.

The other downside to this is that even after a company makes these cuts, the savings probably wouldn't be passed on to the taxpayer. The company is going to continue collecting whatever payments are in the service agreement with the local school board — your tax dollars — and pocket what they have saved by not paying fair wages and offering good benefits or in keeping the fleet in tip-top shape. After all, any company that returns money to the public wouldn't be serving the interests of its board or its shareholders. So as long as the buses run on time and few break down, who is going to ask questions? The market is clearly better at taking care of us than the government, right?

This brings up another sticky point for the freedom-loving free marketers. Their claims of reducing spending, thereby reducing government, are particularly laughable. After all, the notion that taking away the operation of school buses from the state and moving it to the local school district sounds nice, but since the end result is to outsource the entire project to a contractor, it is worth noting how that works.

In the case of Charleston County, that contract is with Durham School Services. Durham is based in Illinois, so your tax money just went out of state on its first stop. Of course, it does not end there. Durham School Services' website indicates it is a subsidiary of National Express Corporation, which, oddly, shares its address with Durham. Of more interest is the fact that National Express is merely a subsidiary of National Express Group. Their address is in the United Kingdom.

Remember how some conservatives hate foreign aid? Well, why are some of them asking the entire state to subsidize a foreign company? Apparently, "local control" and "small government" actually mean "funneling public money to private industry, including multinational transportation companies." I would love for any conservative to square the notion of "local" or "small government" with "multinational corporation."

At this point, I would also like to pose a thought experiment to my readers: In what way does the Charleston County School District and the state better serve the public if it sends taxpayer money out of South Carolina and ultimately overseas? How does this benefit the drivers, the students, or the taxpayers?

While we're waiting on those questions to be answered, we can find some consolation in the fact that the state just bought buses that are made in America — by a company owned by Germans.


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