The 2015 Utah's Freest Cities Ranking

In the business of… business?

While cities typically provide core public services and utilities like fire, police, water, and sewage, they should not be in the business of wedding planning, cable television, theater, and fitness. The private market is well suited to offer competition and options in a variety of markets.

There are private golf courses, private reception centers, private theaters, private waterparks, private fitness and recreation centers, private electric utility companies, and even private garbage companies. However, in many of Utah's cities the government actually enters these private markets and competes—or even monopolizes—by offering goods and services subsidized by taxpayers. This crowds out private companies, is economically inefficient, and violates the property rights of those taxpayers who may not utilize the service but have no choice in paying for it. It is certainly not the role of the government.

12 cities operate electric companies, 14 operate city garbage companies, 21 have city-owned golf courses, some of which will even host and plan your wedding at their reception center! Additionally, 14 cities own fitness centers, 19 own waterparks, and six own theaters. Spanish Fork even has its own cable TV company. American Fork, Cedar City, Logan, Provo, and Washington stand out as owning the most enterprises with seven each. In each city where the government owns an enterprise, either private companies are put at a disadvantage or the city is providing a service that the market does not support, requiring subsidies from taxpayers.

Some cities might argue that they budget for these enterprises separately and that they are self-sustaining. However, this usually doesn't tell the whole story. Certain overhead and administrative costs can sometimes be provided by resources of the city, employees may have benefits provided by the city, the building and grounds can be funded through municipal bonds, and the advertising value of being associated with the city are all ways in which even separately budgeted enterprises are subsidized by the taxpayers.

The arguments people use to support the notion of city-owned enterprises are the same arguments central planners have used for generations to argue for more government control over industry at the expense of private entrepreneurs. Some might argue that government can provide such goods and services in a more egalitarian way at lower costs than for-profit providers. (Translation: government enterprises are a form of wealth redistribution.) Others might argue that such enterprises can raise revenue for the city that can offset other expenditures. (Translation: government grows larger, spends more, and begins crowding out opportunities for private enterprise.)

Government should be in the business of governance and core government functions—and not in the business of golf, fitness centers, theaters and other enterprise activity.