We must be crazy

Patrick Gibbons

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley went on and on last year about trying to protect mental-health clinics. Despite the recession, the clinics appear to be in good health – at least the government workers employed there seem to be doing fine. Nevada spent $72 million in salaries last year for employees working in the mental-health field.

But why does Nevada have to employ approximately 1,200 mental-health workers? We have over 60 psychiatrists, more than 100 state-employed psychologists and hundreds more caseworkers, counselors, nurses and technicians.

Nevada spends:

• $7.2 million on psychiatrists – with a median salary of $138,000 per year
• $8.8 million on psychologists – with a median salary of $85,000
• $28.5 million on psychiatric nurses – with a median salary of $79,100
• $8.2 million on mental-health counselors – with a median salary of $57,100
• $5.9 million on psychiatric caseworkers – with a median salary of $43,600
• $12.9 million on mental-health technicians – with a median salary of $39,100

Why can’t these jobs be done by the private sector? The state could give vouchers, adjusted for personal income, to those in need of help, allowing those residents to pick the services they need. Alternatively, the state could simply award contracts to private clinics to provide the service to qualified residents. Of course, the contracts would have to be competitive – unlike other government contracts in the state.

The same idea can be applied to dozens of other services the government provides. There are hundreds of other nurses, doctors and pharmacists whose jobs can be performed in the private sector. The same thing goes for landscapers, custodians, road-maintenance workers, automotive technicians, carpenters, architects, information-technology specialists, handymen, engineers and, yes, even plumbers. There isn’t any special reason why the government MUST employee these people. In fact, these workers all have direct counterparts in the private sector already providing the same services.

There are, of course, multiple ways to provide social services. But why do policymakers almost always seem to pick the most expensive and least effective solution to solve the latest problem?

Wait, don’t answer that.