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Monday, May 2, 2016

It was like a scene from the Godfather

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

LINCOLN, Nebraska -- It was remindful of the scene from The Godfather where Marlon Brando, as Don Corleone, addresses a meeting of top mob bosses who have gathered to settle a deadly business dispute.

"How did things ever get so far?" he asks, in the wake of murderous savagery, and on the verge of all-out war.

The answer is obvious: Greed and stupidity.

Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln likewise addressed his fellow legislators during a recent debate over the state's financially disastrous attempt to privatize its child welfare system.

Fellow taxpayer: There are not enough hard-edged, mean-spirited, denigrating or insulting combinations of words and phrases to describe the wretched incompetence associated with this disgusting debacle, which has cost thee and me tens of millions of wasted dollars.

Avery's assertion as he surveyed the social and fiscal wreckage:

"I don't believe anybody was prepared for the outcome that we've witnessed since we actually started the privatization process."

The dreariest of pessimists would not have imagined "reforms" accomplishing virtually nothing, with enormous cost overruns at a time when the state needs its every dime, and winding up with the contractors backing out, demanding and likely receiving millions and millions more dollars as they depart.

Foregoing a lot of details you wouldn't remember anyway, the situation Nebraska faces resulted from an arguably well-intentioned, but unarguably wrong-headed, notion that the private sector can do every job better than government. (If you believe the foregoing is true, go ahead to the sports page.)

Only at the outset, it seems, did the private sector outperform the state: It out-maneuvered the state's representatives in negotiating contracts, most especially with the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Their" people did a better job than "our" people -- over and over and over.

The costs to the state show it must have been like taking the perennial candy from the proverbial baby.

The Legislature is now considering all manner of safeguards designed to protect the state when its representatives negotiate contracts worth more than $15 million.

That's fine -- assuming the people the state hires to oversee the contracts and their negotiations are a whole universe smarter than the people who got us into this mess.

By the way: Should someone hang for putting dingbats in those state jobs to begin with? Remember, government has no chance to function well when those in charge put lesser lights in positions that matter.

The final view from here: The Legislature should hire a lobbyist to straighten things out.

Lobbyists for those contractors have their clients sitting pretty as they appear ready to shovel millions more out of the state treasury, effectively being paid to go away. There are a couple of lobbyists in particular who have decades of experience in getting the best of the state.

It could easily be worth it for lawmakers to contract with a lobbyist who might give them a lesson in how not to shoot themselves in the foot.

The question is: Who do you want to negotiate that contract for the Legislature?

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J.L. Schmidt
Capitol View
Nebraska Press Association