September 29, 2014

Debating What Is More Sacred: Private Land or Public Beaches
Texas has long prided itself on its Open Beaches Act, which guarantees public access along most of the state’s 367-mile Gulf Coast. But public beach advocates say a recent Texas Supreme Court decision — which is supported by the front-runner in the race to be the next land commissioner — and a growing property rights movement could endanger that guarantee. Advocates fear that as beaches are hit by coastal erosion, rising sea levels and the threat of powerful storms, private property rights could take precedent over access to public beach access. “We have two rock-solid principles: public access to public beaches, and the right of private owners to exclude others from the property which is theirs,” said David Abraham, a law professor at the University of Miami. “They’re always in tension, but if we face issues like sea-level rise and increasingly severe storms, there’s going to be less stability in that balance.” New York Times

Majority of Western Voters Oppose State Takeover of National Parks and Forests
. . . Bipartisan polling found 59% of respondents disagree with the idea of states taking over public lands, fearing such a move would cause them to pay higher taxes and lose access to the lands themselves if they’re sold off to private interests. Several Western state legislatures have considered proposals that would demand that federal public lands such as national parks and forests and property under control of the Bureau of Land Management be given to the states. AllGov

When Hedging Goes Awry, On The Road And Aloft
. . .This week saw the bankruptcy filing by the company that in 2006 paid the state of Indiana $3.8 billion for a 75-year lease to operate the Indiana Toll Road. What went wrong was not just a recession-induced 10.5 percent decline in traffic on the road between 2007 and 2013, but a hedging strategy. In an effort to protect against interest rate fluctuations, the company and its two affiliates in 2006 had entered into interest rate hedging, or “swap” transactions with banks or other financial institutions. They “agreed to pay the Swap Counterparties [the financial institutions] a fixed rate of interest in exchange for receiving from such Swap Counterparty a floating interest rate,” the bankruptcy filing says. No one expected interest rates to plummet, but after the 2008 financial crisis, they did, falling “to historic lows, creating a substantial net obligation” of $2.15 billion for the toll road company.  Roll Call (blog)

IN: How The Toll Road Bankruptcy Could Impact Indiana
Indiana lawmakers disagree on how this week’s Toll Road bankruptcy filing could impact Hoosiers. Some say a 2006 agreement between the state and the Indiana Toll Road Concession Company protects consumers and the government in the event of a default. But, other lawmakers claim the Toll Road has fallen into disrepair since the privatization and worry maintenance will become even worse. Indiana Public Media

IN: VIEWPOINT: OK, so when can Indiana get its Toll Road back?
Remember the unmistakable promises by our governor at the time, Mitch Daniels, who bragged that his 75-year lease of the Toll Road was the “best deal since Manhattan was sold for beads” and that if the road went belly up, the state could simply take it back? . . . Our governor even had Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment house that was at the center of the financial crisis in 2008, paid $20 million back in 2006 to advise the state on the transaction. Certainly the governor and his friends at Goldman Sachs should feel some obligation to point out in the contract a reversion clause superior to those held by the banks, lien holders and hedge funds lining up for a piece of the restructured Toll Road debt? South Bend Tribune

FL: Privatizing prison health care leaves inmates in pain, sometimes dying
. . .Handing off prison inmate medical care to for-profit companies was designed to deliver tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer savings beginning in 2012. But for inmates, it has come with cold-blooded consequences, a Palm Beach Post investigation found. Just months after all medical care in state prisons was privatized, the count of inmate deaths spiked to a 10-year high in January and continued at a record pace through July. Doctors have expressed alarm. The number of seriously ill prisoners sent for outside hospital care is on track to drop by 47 percent from 2012, the last year for which the state handled medical care. Inmates say prescription painkillers are abruptly replaced with over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen. CorrectionsOne

FL: Inmate death in private transport van in Miami-Dade raises questions
. . . And when the two transport officers finally saw that she was unresponsive in the Taco Bell parking lot, they first called their superiors in Tennessee. Only after unsuccessfully trying to revive her did the officers dial 911, sources said. . . . Last year, two company agents left their transport van unattended in Oklahoma, and the inmates broke through a partition and drove away. In 2009, the company lost two inmates in high-profile escapes during a six-month span. . . . The Miami incident raises questions about whether the company had proper procedures and training — vital concerns often overlooked by governments looking to save money by outsourcing public safety functions, said Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, a nonprofit group that studies privatization. Miami Herald

MO: Plan to privatize mental facility stuns workers
It was not the rescue plan supporters of Cottonwood Residential Treatment Center had in any way hoped for. Employees say a new state plan to privatize and restructure the youth psychiatric facility may be better than a previous one to shut it down. But many suspect the cost-cutting plan will leave children and youth without appropriate treatment. St. Louis ‎Post-Dispatch

LA: Jindal under fire in La. for health care
. . . Jindal’s former health secretary Bruce Greenstein was indicted last week for lying about his involvement in the awarding of a $200-million Medicaid contract, a deal the administration didn’t cancel for several years despite ongoing questions about Greenstein’s involvement. The Republican governor’s privatization of the LSU charity hospital system remains under scrutiny with federal officials who rejected the first set of financing plans for most of the deals and who continue to raise questions about the rewrite. . . . Jindal privatized the hospitals without waiting for federal officials to sign off on the financing arrangements. Without that approval, the contracts can’t work because there’s not enough money to support them, and the state could have to repay what it’s already spent on them. Opelousas Daily World

MI: Effort to privatize Detroit parking likely to expire without Orr
Kevyn Orr’s impending departure from Detroit means an idea to privatize the municipal parking department is as likely to expire as a city parking meter. Day-to-day control of the city was transferred back to the mayor and City Council last week per a council vote. Orr is retained solely to oversee the bankruptcy case. His remaining task as emergency manager is to usher the city’s plan of adjustment through confirmation before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes. With Orr focused on navigating the city’s exit from bankruptcy, his spokesman said the parking plan is now parked in the hands of the city’s elected officials. Crain’s Detroit Business

NC: Opinion: NC justice system failing mentally ill inmates
. . . The Treatment Advocacy Center recently stated “There is probably no state where mental health services have deteriorated as much as they have in North Carolina over the last decade. The efforts to privatize the system have been a disaster…” Asheville Citizen-Times