March 27, 2014


Public-sector pensions united unions and business leaders against privatization. The refrain of privatization seems to play over and over. Our cities are going broke and can’t afford to make retirement payments; public health nurses, city park employees, and other workers who provide important services will not get what they worked hard for all their lives; and the only way out is to put pensions into the hands of privately held corporations. Or at least, that’s what the tea party and other political interests would have us believe. Fortunately, there is a recent example of a city where people have fought back against this prevailing narrative and won: Cincinnati. Although public employee pensions may seem an unlikely proving ground for new alliances between local unions and business leaders, the people of Cincinnati showed that unity was possible when, last November, 78 percent of voters rejected a tea-party-backed ballot measure that would have drastically altered the retirement prospects for city workers.  Al Jazeera America

Most Anything Is Fair Game in Portugal’s Quest for Cash, Including the Mirós. . .The government’s announcement that it would sell the collection through the auction house Christie’s in London set off intense discussion of what kind of assets the state should be allowed to sell, and whether the nation’s cultural heritage is off limits. Portugal’s controversy has now become part of a broader debate across Europe’s hard-hit, if historically treasured, southern tier over the virtues and limits of downsizing government, often centered on the public preservation or privatization of cultural patrimony that touches on the raw nerves of national identity. “The obsession with eliminating everything that is public is leading the government to go further down the privatization road, and perhaps they consider paintings to be part of the same strategy,” said Gabriela Canavilhas, a Socialist lawmaker and Portugal’s former culture minister. “But even in Detroit, which was declared bankrupt, their final decision was not to sell any art.”  New York Times           

31 state chambers push for 5-year transportation bill. Several state chambers — 31, to be exact — are urging Congress to pass a five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill. . . The letter also notes that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a grade of D+ on its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, as well as the estimated $3.6 trillion needed for infrastructure by 2020. The letter outlines four areas the chambers want Congress to consider while working on a new bill: “At minimum, a five-year authorization to provide predictability and certainty to a sector of our economy that needs stability and growth; dedicated federal funds to ensure the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund; flexibility for states to invest in transportation infrastructure as they deem necessary; and freedom for states to choose their own funding options.”  Better Roads

NY: Education groups lobby against building aid for charter schools. In a legislative memo being circulated to state lawmakers in the final days of budget negotiations, the group, called the Educational Conference Board, argues that charter schools are already a financial burden on school districts. To now give them access to a pot of funds intended for district schools would further undermine the state’s ability to fully fund district schools, the memo contends. . . The coalition is made up of groups representing teachers, parents, school boards, superintendents and school budget officials. Yagielski said “they don’t always agree on everything,” but the fact that such a diverse group is lined up in opposition is an example of the threat seen by charter schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate are mulling a plan to provide facilities funding to charter schools that operate in private space.  Chalkbeat New York

IL: Board to privatize recess. One month after voting to privatize what is left of custodial services, the Chicago Board of Education is poised, at its meeting of March 26, 2014, to privatize recess. A Board Report on the agenda for the March 26, 2014 meeting calls for the Board to hire two dozen outside agencies, all of them non-union and most anti-union, to provide various recess services. The vote to further privatize custodial services was taken at the Board meeting of February 26, 2014. Privatization of custodial work has begun in all schools that have unionized custodial workers as this report is written.

FL: PACA gives a big no to elevated toll road. . .PACA represents 60,000 residents living in homeowners associations, condominium associations and community development district-managed communities. . . International Infrastructure Partners has proposed a private venture estimated by some to cost $2.2 billion that would build a 33-mile elevated toll road from U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills to U.S. 19 in New Port Richey. A group of residents living along the State Road 54/56 corridor have organized against the project, speaking out at recent meetings hosted by the county. However, it is ultimately up to the Florida Department of Transportation to make a final decision, although officials there say they won’t proceed without the blessing of the county.  The Laker/Lutz News

CA: Santa Ana, California Dumps Red Light Cameras. . .A unanimous Santa Ana City Council decided last week to stop doing business with Redflex Traffic Systems based on a staff proposal that would end photo ticketing once the Redflex contract expires on June 21, 2015. . . Councilman Vincent Sarmiento offered the resolution to end use of cameras citing the “excessive fine” of $490 that the embattled Australian firm issued last year to 30,099 in the city. Out of the $14,748,510 worth of tickets mailed, the city’s cut was $2,541,745.