PHOENIX -- State senators approved legislation Thursday that could end up meaning more business for business.
That would be allowed to grow beginning in 2014. But the total number of employees could not exceed 0.4 percent of the city's population.
Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said there are exceptions built in for police and fire.
But Antenori said the net result would be that as cities seek to expand services, they will have to contract out for them. And he believes that will result in lower costs to taxpayers.
And if that isn't enough to force the issue, Antenori also convinced colleagues on Thursday to adopt another bill that would force cities of at least 500,000 residents to bid out any services with a cost of at least $75,000.
Antenori said nothing in SB 1322 actually requires a city to accept a bid. He said city officials could decide they prefer to keep the services in-house.
But Antenori said that the public bidding process will ensure that city residents learn if there is, in fact, some private business willing to do the work for less. And that, he said, will pressure city officials to accept those outside bids.
The idea of this intrusion brought complaints from Sen. John Nelson, R-Litchfield Park.
"Why would we, who are so efficient in running state government, want to go down and control a lower level of government,'' he asked. Nelson, who served as a Phoenix city councilman for 16 years, said local government "seems to have done a much better job of controlling their costs and direction long before we did.''
Antenori said state intrusion is necessary to save taxpayer dollars. More to the point, Antenori said he has a philosophical problem with large -- and he believes inefficient -- city staffs.
"If it's in the Yellow Pages, I don't think government should be doing it,'' he said.
"Somebody in the private sector's already perfected the way through hardy competition and by the right of survival,'' Antenori continued. He said these firms "will probably have processes and refinement to the system to do it far cheaper and more efficient'' than the government.
"The public sector is a little heftier and chubbier than the private sector,'' Antenori said.
He also believes that wages of city workers are too high.
In fact, another provision in SB 1345 is aimed specifically at that. It would prohibit cities from paying any employee more than 110 percent of what that job would command in the private sector.
Antenori said there may be positions where the private sector does pay more. But he said cities seem to hire entry-level clerks and other workers at far-better salaries and with far-better benefits than would be available to someone working for a private firm.
That part of the legislation does have exceptions for things where there may not be a private comparison, including police officers, fire fighters, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and the administrative staffs of elected officials.
Nelson said that, no matter the intent, he finds state intervention into the decisions of city officials unwarranted and possibly counterproductive.
"If you start tying their hands too tightly, they won't be able to function efficiently,'' he said.
Both bills go to the House after a final Senate roll-call vote.