January 8, 2015


‘Hostage-Takers’: Republicans Go After Social Security on Very First Day. An attack by the Republican Party on the nation’s Social Security program took less than one full working day. Included in a new set of rules passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday was a new measure making it more difficult to move funds between separate accounts maintained by the Social Security Administration. A seemingly technical provision on the surface, critics says it puts millions of disabled and elderly Americans at risk and sets the stage for further attacks aimed at the wider program. . . . Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also condemned the rule, calling it not only contentious, but dangerous. “Re-allocation has never been controversial, but detractors working to privatize Social Security will do anything to manufacture a crisis out of a routine administrative function,” Brown said in a statement. CommonDreams.org

4 Things to Know Before Your Water Is Privatized. . . Right now, private water companies serve about 15 percent of the U.S. population, but that number could soon skyrocket thanks to several new federal laws and an investment gap of as much as $500 billion over the next 20 years. However, even as private water IOUs eat up an increasing chunk of the U.S. market, water infrastructure’s decentralized nature — owned and operated by thousands of local municipalities, tied to each individual watershed — means that little national data exists. When bills like New Jersey’s stir controversy, local media is often forced into he-said, she-said coverage, without much information on how privatization will actually affect the local system. Next City

Editorial: With oil prices low, now’s the perfect time for Congress to raise the gas tax. . . Lawmakers could have headed off some of the problem in 1993 by indexing the gas tax to inflation, but they put that responsibility on later congresses, which failed to act responsibly. Now, with lower oil prices, the politics of raising the gas tax should be easier, the potential backlash blunted by Americans who don’t feel as pinched at the pump. True, lower gas prices will stimulate the economy to some degree, and raising the gas tax would reduce that effect. But raising it now would restrain present and future demand for gasoline, encouraging Americans to maintain some of the resilience to oil price volatility that the country built up in recent years — and possibly even checking future price spikes. Washington Post

The ugly segregationist history of the charter school movement. As a parent I find it easy to understand the appeal of charter schools, especially for parents and students who feel that traditional public schools have failed them. As a historical sociologist who studies race and politics, however, I am disturbed both by the significant challenges that plague the contemporary charter school movement, and by the ugly history of segregationist tactics that link past educational practices to the troubling present. The now-popular idea of offering public education dollars to private entrepreneurs has historical roots in white resistance to school desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The desired outcome was few or, better yet, no black students in white schools. Salon

CA: Los Angeles City Council asks for law banning for-profit parking apps. The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday requested that city lawyers draft a law banning digital media applications that identify available parking on city streets and charge fees to reserve the spots. The emerging technology, offered by San Francisco-based MonkeyParking and other mobile-based apps, has become a thorn for public officials in the Bay Area, along with Boston and Santa Monica. Los Angeles Times

NJ: Liberty State Park advocates remain puzzled by controversial legislation. One week after advocates for Liberty State Park sounded the alarm about legislative changes that they believe would lead to privatization of the park, it’s still unclear why the changes were made and whether they will be signed into law. Mayor Steve Fulop said today he has “serious concerns” about the proposed changes, which would allow a new state commission to “evaluate, approve and implement” plans for the state park. That language was inserted into an 80-page bill shortly before the state Legislature approved it last month. “It’s unclear what the motivation is for the governor to add that in,” Fulop told The Jersey Journal. “Everyone is trying to figure it out.” The Jersey Journal

PA: Koch Bros-backed group to push “3 P’s” – pensions, paycheck protection and booze privatization. The American Future Fund, an advocacy group founded by ex-Mitt Romney campaign aides that has ties to the billionaire Koch Brothers, has come to play in Pennsylvania. The group plans a statewide multimedia and advocacy blitz during the coming legislative session aimed at “[reminding] legislators of their commitments to support “3 Ps:” pension reform, paycheck protection, and liquor privatization,” according to a statement posted to it s website. PennLive.com (blog)

TX: Governor proposes a toll road plan ‘as big as Texas’. Rick Perry was just a year into his tenure as governor when he proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive 4,000-mile network of privately operated toll roads, railroad tracks and utility lines that would take 50 years to build. “This plan is as big as Texas and as ambitious as our people,” Perry said at the first of many events touting the project. The corridor he envisioned would never become a reality, but he still managed to leave his mark on the state’s approach to funding roads. Under his leadership, Texas has been the country’s most aggressive supporter of tolling and private-sector investment in transportation. Despite millions of dollars spent on planning, the caustic public response to the Trans-Texas Corridor would ultimately doom it. Killeen Daily Herald

TX: Nichols asks for review of contract management for state health commission. State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) on Wednesday, Jan. 7, requested that the Texas State Auditor’s Office review the procurement processes of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in tentatively awarding a contract for the operation of Terrell State Hospital to a private firm. “I believe that if we are considering privatization of one of our state hospitals, we need to be able to show that it will not only save money for the state, but that better services will be provided,” said Senator Nichols. “I hope that through this review some of our questions will be answered, and we will be able to determine the best next step forward in this process.” Cleveland Advocate

MD: Montgomery Parks asks whether privately owned parks make sense for downtown areas. The Montgomery Department of Parks is asking people whether they think public spaces owned by private entities can serve as useful civic spaces now and in the future, or whether they would be better off owned by a public entity. The survey asks what people think about the strengths and weaknesses of privately owned public spaces, especially in urban areas such as downtown Bethesda, Wheaton or Silver Spring.   Gazette.Net

NY: Opinion: NYCHA’s Path to Privatization? As it currently stands, NYCHA’s 2602 buildings spread across 334 developments, serving more than 615,000 people, are in need of $18 billion for major building repairs and upgrades. The area I represent in East Harlem has the highest concentration of public housing in the State. This state of disrepair is both a natural result of aging housing stock and a failure to properly invest in the regular maintenance of these buildings. The plan recently introduced by NYCHA to sell a 50% stake in six developments, in exchange for an immediate cash infusion, is an intriguing approach to this massive problem, but this deal requires closer scrutiny. Furthermore, it raises significant questions about the federal government’s future role in providing housing subsidies. Gotham Gazette





January 6, 2015


WA: Public-private partnerships take root to help downtown parks. Pointing to the success of several New York City parks, initiative supporters say partnerships bringing private resources to bear on some of Seattle’s most important public spaces can succeed where the city has struggled. But the supporters also say they are aware of the potential for park partnerships to stir controversy. They insist they will safeguard public access and equity. The Seattle Times

FL: Access to public records in Florida faced new, bigger hurdles in 2014. It was a dark year for sunshine in Florida in 2014. Legal fights by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of Florida kept crucial documents under wraps long enough to dilute their impact once they were released. The governor took the state’s public records tradition in a new direction as he used taxpayer money to defend his attempts to shift the burden for holding the public records from the state to individual employees, and his lawyers opened a new legal vein with his interpretation of the blind trust law. Tampabay.com

NJ: Pols blast Christie-championed PATH privatization plan. . . Tramping in from out of frigid weather beside the Grove Street PATH Station, a military tent-sized collection of Democratic Party politicians joined Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop to denounce the proposed scheme. U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) led the way, heaping praise on Fulop for organizing the show of force. “I applaud the mayor’s leadership to join together a coalition to speak out against a travesty,” said New Jersey’s senior senator, who slammed the Port Authority, traditionally a nest for political patronage, some of which got blasted and exposed during last year’s Bridgegate crisis. PolitickerNJ

TX: Texas Payday Lenders Use Illegal Threat Of Jail Time To Intimidate Thousands Of Borrowers. . . The American Civil Liberties Union alleges that courts in Colorado, Ohio, Louisiana, Michigan, Washington, and Georgia have effectively reinstated the “debtors prisons” that went out of style in the 19th century. The privatization of probation services has added new fees and charges that can often land people in jail even after they’ve paid their debt to society. In June, a Pennsylvania mother died in a cell while serving a weekend in jail to resolve years of outstanding fines she had no ability to repay. ThinkProgress

January 5, 2015


Inconvenient Truth: America’s Public Schools Are Among Highest Achieving In The World. . . In fact, according to yet another study, America’s wealthiest traditional public schools that are unionized with tenured teachers are among the world’s highest achieving schools. If, as privatization “reformers” in Republican, corporate, and Obama Education Department claim that America’s public schools are dire failures, then America’s wealthy public schools with unionized teachers, and tenure, would be failing and not at the “top of the international charts.” PoliticusUSA

Exposing the charter school lie: Michelle Rhee, Louis CK and the year phony education reform revealed its true colors. . . As 2014 began, more stories about charter schools scandals continued to drip out from local press outlets – a chain of charter schools teaching creationism, a charter school closing abruptly for mysterious reasons, a charter high school operating as a for-profit “basketball factory,” recruiting players from around the world while delivering a sub-par education. Salon

Congresswoman Maxine Waters condemns RAD public housing privatization scheme. . . The top ranking Democrat on the committee has openly spoken out in recent months against the efforts of that industry’s lobbyists to persuade Congress to privatize our nation’s public housing stock through the RAD program. In past years, with help from mayors across the nation, the affordable housing industry has done everything possible to break down the barriers between public housing and so-called affordable housing. San Francisco Bay View

MA: New administration can expect wide debate on charter schools. When Governor-elect Charlie Baker charts his agenda for bolstering the state’s education system, local school leaders and advocates are hoping charter schools, state mandates, and funding issues are all high on his list of topics. . . . On an issue that could put them at odds with the incoming governor, some school officials are urging that the state retain its cap on the number of charter schools. Baker has expressed support for removing the limit, and his pick for the next secretary of education, James A. Peyser, is a strong advocate for charter schools. Boston Globe

NJ: Editorial: Gov. Christie’s agenda threatens Liberty State Park. If you enjoy the glorious, unspoiled vistas of Liberty State Park – easily the most popular public space in the northern half of our state – you may want to prepare yourself for the possibility that someone wants to carve a neon noisemaker right into the heart of its 600 pristine acres. A bill is currently on the governor’s desk that would remove the park from under the control of the Department of Environmental Protection, which is charged with protecting our state’s resources, and hand it over to the Meadowlands Regional Commission, a new entity that is all about business development and gaming. . . . Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop calls the bill a “formal step to attempt to privatize” that would be “a black eye for the state of New Jersey.” It certainly is a black eye for democracy. Not only was passed in the legislative shadows, its language is beyond vague, apparently so no one would notice that it could sharply curtain the influence of the DEP – the same DEP that prevented the construction of a water park and golf course inside the park after, you guessed it, public hearings. Star Ledger

KS: KanCare company counters lawsuit accusing it of unethical behavior. An incendiary lawsuit over the business practices of one of the companies running KanCare, the Brownback administration’s privatization of Kansas’ $3 billion Medicaid program, just got more explosive. The company, Sunflower State Health Plan, responded this week to a lawsuit accusing it of unethical behavior, saying the plaintiff, “an executive who was fired,” was trying to extort it. Kansas City Star

MO: Highway commission: I-70 tollway across Missouri is ‘worthy of consideration’. A Missouri toll system for Interstate 70, with a total cost of between $20 and $30 per car for a cross-state trip, could raise the roughly $2 billion the state would need for a major reconstruction and expansion project on the highway, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission says in a new report. The commission’s conclusion that a toll system is “worthy of consideration” was expected, and is in line with what Gov. Jay Nixon is proposing. St. Louis Post-Dispatch

CT: CT governor won’t rule out possibility of tolls. It’s been about 30 years since toll booths dotted Connecticut highways and it could take a lot to bring them back. Generations of drivers now travel the state highways uninterrupted by the cost, delays, and possible danger of tolls. They were phased out after a crash at a Stratford toll barrier in January 1983. A tractor-trailer plowed into cars, triggering an explosion that killed seven people. Now, lawmakers may look at lifting the ban on tolls to help pay for upgrades to bridges, roads, and maybe even railways. wwlp.com

CA: Toll roads can be a bumpy ride. California’s first ventures into the world of privately-funded freeways have been a bumpy ride. Connecting jobs centers in Orange County to cheaper housing in Riverside County, the 10-mile 91 Express Lanes were built in the middle of an existing public freeway, offering drivers four lanes to bypass — at a price — Southern California’s notorious gridlock. Operated by California Private Transportation Corp., the road was slow to draw motorists and included a controversial “non-compete” clause, which limited the government’s ability to make roadway improvements elsewhere, sparking lawsuits and motorist outrage. Eventually, Orange County transportation officials bought out the road. Other proposals never made it off the drawing board after opposition from local government and environmentalists. Monterey County Herald