by Victor Riches

For the past 17 years, ambulance services in Show Low, Arizona, and the surrounding area have been provided by Show Low EMS, a privately owned small business. But recently, the local fire district filed an application to amend the Certificate of Need (CON) to replace Show Low EMS in a large portion of the service area. The effect would be to have a government entity that’s been losing money for years replace a respected private company.

During the administrative law proceeding on this matter, Judge Thomas Shedden ruled overwhelmingly in favor of Show Low EMS, finding that the taxpayers are best served by private industry rather than by government entities. However, the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) director inexplicably disregarded this judicial decision and sided with the taxpayer-funded fire district. To do so, she had to ignore every finding of fact during the administrative hearing. This is not the way government should operate.

Agency directors should only ever overrule administrative law judges in cases of extreme, demonstrable incompetence. To do otherwise does a tremendous disservice to the judicial process, and at a great cost to taxpayers. The judge in this particular matter is well respected and experienced. For the DHS director to ignore his findings—to the detriment of a private business—is, at best, imprudent. The overall financial health of fire districts in Arizona is extremely poor. Furthermore, it costs much more for taxpayer-funded fire districts to provide emergency services than it does for private providers.

Make no mistake: The CON laws in Arizona need to be reformed to allow for legitimate competition. However, that competition should not stem from the government itself, requiring Arizona’s over-extended taxpayers to foot the bill. Governor Ducey has been a strong advocate for streamlining bureaucracy and privatizing services. His cabinet members, including the DHS director, should follow his lead.

Victor Riches is the President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.