July 30, 2015

IL: Emanuel to introduce privatization rules to avoid repeat of parking meter debacle. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is finally delivering on his campaign promise to establish rules of the road for privatizing city assets and services to make certain that the parking meter debacle is never repeated. A similar privatization ordinance championed by the anti-Emanuel Progressive Caucus has been languishing in a City Council committee for years. Chicago Sun-Times

IL: Hundreds Take to the Streets Over Chicago Board of Education’s Decision to Further Slash CPS Funding. “We need teachers! We need books! We need the money that the banks took!” chanted a group of protesters outside of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters July 22. The crowd was protesting the Board of Education’s recent decision to slash funding to Chicago schools by $200 million while paying massive amounts of debt to banks like Bank of America. This latest round of cuts includes cutting 1,400 positions—200 of which serve special needs students in the city. “. . . Community and parent groups were also there to protest what they say is an expansion of charter schools in the city that comes at the expense of public schools. In These Times

VA: Prices for toll lanes on I-95 significantly higher than advertised on website. The website for Virginia’s new 95 Express lanes showed tolls can range from 20 cents to approximately 80 cents per mile, but the company that runs the lanes, Transurban, confirmed they have charged up to $6.60 to travel one mile on the express lane. Daniel Seymour, who travels between Spotsylvania and Northern Virginia for work, took a picture of a toll sign at exit 161 by Woodbridge. It read a price of $5.65 to go a little over a mile to exit 160. . . . “There’s no reason I should have to pay that when they advertise between 20 cents a mile and 80 cents a mile approximately,” Seymour said. wtvr.com

KS: Federal Investigation Continues Into Kansas GOP’s Medicaid Privatization Program. The dysfunctional Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) known as KanCare continues to face public scrutiny and federal investigations into claims that patients experienced long waits and subpar care. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into complaints about Medicaid waiting lists for disability services in Kansas is ongoing, according to a statement by a department spokesperson last week. . .. KanCare, a Republican-backed program, launched in January 2013, when the state’s traditional Medicaid program was phased out. In its place, the Brownback administration contracted three for-profit health insurance companies to coordinate health care for more than 360,000 low-income residents. . . Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, testified that KanCare has steadily reduced services for the state’s most vulnerable residents. . . . During the forum, much of the blame was directed toward the three managed-care companies contracted by the state: Amerigroup Kansas, the United Healthcare Community Plan, and the Sunflower Health Plan. RH Reality Check

KS: Legislative committee denies request for audit of foster care system. The request was brought by House Democrats in response to recent media coverage of cases where children have died either when placed in a foster care home or after being reunited with family members. . . The Legislative Post Audit Committee voted down the request 5-4, splitting along party lines. A second vote to keep the proposal alive so it could possibly be revisited passed with bipartisan support. . . . Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who brought forth the request along with Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, argued that privatization of the foster care system in recent years had lessened state oversight and that an audit was needed to determine whether the DCF had ensured the safety of children in the system. Wichita Eagle

TX: Canadians Make Texas Highway Spoof That’s Uncomfortably Close to Reality. The conceit of the joke: Texans love to drive and a lot of them are rich, and so a few would probably be willing shell out extra $65,000 to drive on a road from Dallas to Houston that is reserved for people who can buy their way into an elite motorist clique. “Just feels good to get out there and drive with like minded people, I guess,” one interviewed character says. And another: “I take great comfort that everyone on the road has insurance.” D Magazine

MI: Opinion: Think tank’s effort to discredit union fails. One group in particular, the Mackinac Center, has spent considerable time and resources attacking public education and school employees. The center, which touts itself as a “think tank,” is corporately funded. . . The studies are peddled to legislators, imploring them to privatize public education, which in turn enriches the corporations who fund the Mackinac Center. The return on those corporate investments is evident, as shown by the dramatic growth of privatization in public schools . . The Michigan Education Association has stood as the one road block to this scheme, fighting for and defending public education and those who work in our public schools. As such, the Mackinac Center has conducted expensive campaigns attempting to persuade MEA members to quit the union. . . .The campaign, now in its third year has been a bust, as MEA has retained over 90 percent of its membership since the “right to work” law was passed. The Detroit News

July 29, 2015

IL: Tax breaks sought for Illiana toll road. In another sign the controversial Illiana Expressway still has a pulse, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is seeking legislative approval of tax breaks that could benefit the on-again, off-again project. . . . The project also has been the subject of a federal court ruling that found the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the project in 2013 violated U.S. environmental law. . . Howard, Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, was surprised to hear the administration was pursuing the sales tax exemption proposal in light of the federal ruling. “I don’t get it. Why in the world is the Department of Revenue proposing to grant a sales tax exemption for this project?” Learner said. “It’s time for the State of Illinois to stop wasting money on boondoggle projects like the Illiana Expressway.” The Southern Illinosian

WI: Private firm cashes in on public campsites. . . Base camping rates at state parks, which increased on Tuesday, and the cost of vehicle-admission stickers, make camping in those facilities too expensive for him and a lot of his peers, he said. It’s not just those fees that campers must pay to stay in state recreation areas. A reservation fee that is assessed in virtually every transaction involving a state campground reservation also is tacked on to the cost. Most of the revenue generated from that fee goes to a private contractor, which collects more than $1 million every year from residents and tourists, Gannett Wisconsin Media has found. The company, ReserveAmerica, has been paid an estimated $16.4 million since 1999, when it first entered a contract with the state Department of Natural Resources to manage online and phone reservations for state camping sites, according to data released by the DNR. Of the $9.70 reservation fee, the DNR keeps $1 and the rest goes to ReserveAmerica. Marshfield News-Herald

KY: Candidates for governor propose privatizing parks. . . Kentucky’s two major nominees for governor said Tuesday the state should consider privatizing at least some of its public park system as a way to save money to deal with upcoming budget issues. NewsOK.com

FL: Hundreds show up to voice complaints over plan for I-275 toll lanes. . . Speakers from several local community groups organized the town hall meeting to put pressure on the Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organization to stop plans for the Tampa Bay Express project that would widen portions of Interstate 275 with toll lanes. The Metropolitan Planning Organization will meet Aug. 4, and community organizers expect residents to show up in throngs. More than 2,000 people already have signed a petition on stoptbx.com to remove the project from road plans. At Tuesday’s town hall meeting, activists and businesses owners helped answer residents’ questions about the 175-page expansion plan TBO.com

OH: Audit: Dayton charter school board members overpaid themselves. Board members at a Dayton charter school over-paid themselves by a combined $4,350 last year, according to a state audit released today. Dayton Daily News

NJ: Freehold Twp. teachers reject outsourced assistants. The teachers union here is taking a stand against the school district’s move to outsource teacher assistant posts to a local agency, saying the cost-cutting move would diminish learning. Asbury Park Press

NJ: 911 dispatch – the next go-to service for privatization?. Lawrence Township became the first New Jersey municipality to make the move in early 2013. According to Mayor Cathleen Lewis, her town may see cost savings over time, but the main reason for the switch was to get more officers on the street. New Jersey 101.5 FM

OK: Editorial: No privatization: Keep Tulsa Jail under public control. . . Privatization turned out to be a bad deal for taxpayers the first time around — from 1999, when the new jail opened, until March 2005, when the sheriff’s office won a bid to take over jail operation. We don’t think a second experience would be any better. Tulsa World

Opinion: A job for government. Tucked into a dusty corner of the Senate’s pending Highway Trust Fund bill is a zombie proposal to hire private debt-collection agencies to hound delinquent taxpayers on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS has actually tried outsourcing tax-collection activities before, at Congress’ behest. Twice, in fact, over the last two decades. Both times, the experiment was a disaster. Privatizing delinquent tax collections led to complaints from taxpayers who got harassed and bullied by an industry known for rampant harassment and bullying, particularly of low-income people who don’t know their rights. Perhaps more important, at least from a fiscal responsibility perspective, both times the program was scrapped because it actually cost taxpayers money on net, despite assurances ahead of time of the huge bounty it would lasso. The Leaf-Chronicle

 

 

July 27, 2015

Congress moves agency by agency to cut rights of feds, limit their pay, facilitate their dismissal. Step by step, agency by agency, Congress is moving to facilitate the firing of federal employees, cut their workplace rights and limit their pay. Currently in the dock – workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Defense Department. . . . The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved on Wednesday a bill allowing the VA to revoke bonuses paid to staffers involved in that scandal. This would apply to employees who “contributed to the purposeful omission” of veterans on electronic wait lists and to supervisors who knew or “reasonably should have known” about the omissions. Employees would be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The independent Office of Special Council would have to give permission before whistleblowers could be fired or demoted. Washington Post

Republicans Want Private Debt Collectors To Replace IRS Agents. Senate Republicans want to replace IRS agents with private debt collection agencies, which are known to harass people for overdue credit card bills and student loan payments. . . Senate Democrats on Wednesday night fought off a GOP effort to pay for the highway funding with Social Security cuts, but the privatized debt collection maneuver remains in the bill. While privatization is popular with congressional Republicans, collection agencies have terrible reputations. They frequently run afoul of the law by illegally harassing or intimidating borrowers, and sometimes even family members of borrowers who are under no legal obligation to make good on their relatives’ debts. Collectors also often get in trouble with the government for tricking borrowers into ponying up payments they are not actually required to make. Huffington Post

NJ: Chris Christie Is Turning Tap Water Into a Private Commodity. In 2010, the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey, were asked to sell part of their water system for $80 million to New Jersey American Water, the largest private water utility company in the state. Despite the company’s best lobbying efforts—a $1 million spending spree that included an onslaught of advertisements, telephone calls, and door-to-door canvassers—the voters weren’t persuaded. They rejected the privatization attempt by nearly four-to-one at the ballot box. . . . In recent months, however, lawmakers in New Jersey have passed legislation that attempts to silence the voices of communities like Trenton. The Water Infrastructure Protection Act (WIPA), signed by Governor (and presidential candidate) Chris Christie in February, empowers municipalities to sell their water utilities to private corporations without a public vote. . . . “It’s a great deal for water companies. It’s a terrible deal for citizens,” says state Senator Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex, who opposed the bill. “Let’s call it what it is: greed.” The Nation

NJ: Camden rejects efforts to privatize 911 services. Camden City is nixing a plan to privatize its 911 dispatch services, officials announced Friday afternoon. City Business Administrator Robert Corrales the administration decided to reject all of the bids it had received from companies seeking to take over the city’s police dispatch after neither showed any significant cost savings. “We’re better suited with what we have now,” said Corrales.  NJ.com

NY: Charter Schools Lose Ground in Funding, Report Says. Charter schools have lost ground to public schools during the past five years in terms of per-student funding, according to a report released Thursday by the city’s Independent Budget Office. Wall Street Journal‎

NC: Toll road opponents pledge to continue fighting project in Legislature. Opponents of the $655 million Interstate 77 toll lane project say it’s not too late and the odds aren’t too long to stop what they see as a economic development disaster waiting to happen. “This will be canceled. Bet your money on it,” Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Puckett said, adding that the $100 million cancellation fee is a fraction of what it could cost the state to buy out the toll lane project later. Charlotte Observer

FL: Florida Gov. Scott Behind Bill Privatizing All Transit Systems. State Rep. Jason Brodeur wants public transportation agencies to seek proposals from private companies. The Sanford republican is working on legislation with the governor and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. Broduer points to Volusia County’s Votran system run by a company out of Texas. He said Votran’s been more efficient with its private sector management. Broduer now wants not only Orlando’s Lynx system to look for private management, but all transit authorities to seek it out. WMFE

FL: Toll road convention draws international crowd to Miami. Trading tips on everything from new technology that would allow them to shut down a car headed the wrong way on an exit ramp to the best way to extract money from scofflaw drivers who don’t want to pay, nearly 600 owners and operators of toll roads gathered for a worldwide convention in downtown Miami on Monday. Miami Herald

FL: Opinion: Florida is increasingly addicted to toll roads – at commuters’ expense….One reason for relying more on traditional roads is that tolling is regressive. That’s particularly troubling in a low-wage community such as ours that leads America’s major metros in jobs that pay less than $25,000. They are filled with the people who clean hotel rooms and staff theme parks. And many seek housing where it’s cheaper in the suburbs, where they rely on — you guessed it — tolls. It’s a wicked cycle. Proponents of toll roads — from Rick Scott and legislators to U.S. Rep. John Mica, the father of the I-4 plan — say tolls provide options for drivers, including a speedier for-pay alternative. But the price can be steep: as much as $14 each way on the 21-mile tolled stretch of I-4. The prices will fluctuate. Sometimes they could be as little as $2. But not when you really need them. The more congestion, the higher the tolls. Toll planners call this “dynamic pricing.” Real people call it “gouging.” Orlando Sentinel           

VA: Editorial: Lesson learned in public-private deals: Be careful. . . Start with the $260 million the state spent to turn U.S. 460 into a high-priced, high-speed toll road, a highway that will never be built. Or the enormous and endless giveaway of drivers’ money to the company that will control – and toll – the Elizabeth River tunnels for the next six decades. But McDonnell’s ideology led Virginians astray on more issues than just roads. His administration briefly devoted significant energy to privatizing the state’s ABC stores, a wasteful effort that simple math – and past governors – would have told him couldn’t work. Unfortunately, practical cautions were no match for the promises of industry groups, think tanks or the prospects of higher office. McDonnell also tried to sell The Port of Virginia, perhaps the state’s most valuable publicly owned asset. For years, that initiative destabilized the governance and operation of one of the state’s major enterprise engines. The Virginian-Pilot

WI: Opinion: Stop the privatization of public education. There are certain issues for which politicians will fight tooth and nail, and are the reason why they entered into public service in the first place. For me, access to high-quality public education always has been one of those issues. As a kid growing up in a working class home, high-quality public schools with caring teachers helped make me the person I am today. And as someone who cares deeply about the strength of public education, I am dismayed at the recent attempts by Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson to use Wisconsin’s education system as a political poker chip by expanding and promoting the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher program. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

TX: Editorial: Editorial: Privatized GED has failed students, should be changed. . . Across Texas, the number of people taking the test declined by nearly 45 percent since it was privatized. Only 30 percent of those passed — half what the passing rate had been. At the East Texas Literacy Council in Longview, those who were able to pass the GED test fell from 73 in 2013 to just five in 2014. Five. . . Other problems could be more of a hurdle, mainly the fact that taking the test now costs almost twice as much — $135 — as it did before. . . But that’s not all. Those who want to take the test no longer can do so in person, using paper and pencil. They must register online with a credit or debit card, which many of them do not have. Longview News-Journal

July 16, 2015

Greek Bailout Deal Gives Adrenalin Shot to Privatization Process. Greek asset sales are back on the table after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras caved in to eurozone leaders’ demands for talks on an €86 billion ($95 billion) bailout package to keep the Mediterranean country afloat and inside the single-currency club. . . . The deal entails a “significantly scaled-up” privatization program, transferring €50 billion worth of state assets to an independent fund that will either try to sell them or generate money from them.. . . . The previous privatization program, stalled for months by Greek political turmoil, was never in the fast lane to begin with, with land development projects making up the bulk of completed asset sales. TheStreet.com

Education: the Next Corporate Frontier. Over the last thirty years or so, private corporations have been steadily taking over school systems all around the world. Going hand in hand with “free” trade and development, the privatization of education is simply another step towards corporate control of the entire economy. If you’re tuned in to education news in the US, you may be familiar with the public school closures in Chicago, the so-called Recovery School District in New Orleans, and the proposed budget cuts in Milwaukee that have brought parents, students and teachers into the streets. But few of us hear about how students in Chile have been protesting for nearly a decade against rampant privatization that has increased economic inequality. Or how the UK government recently passed an education act allowing the conversion of all state schools into privately run “academies”. Or how Structural Adjustment Programs and development aid have paved the way for privatization of schools across Africa, which has resulted in reduced enrollment of girls and exclusion of the poorest children. CounterPunch

 

Toll road convention draws international crowd to Miami

Trading tips on everything from new technology that would allow them to shut down a car headed the wrong way on an exit ramp to the best way to extract money from scofflaw drivers who don’t want to pay, nearly 600 owners and operators of toll roads gathered for a worldwide convention in downtown Miami on Monday. With 34 American states plus Puerto Rico operating nearly 6,000 miles of toll roads, which have turned into a $14 billion industry that’s growing quickly and commanding international attention. Miami Herald

GA: $834 million road project begins toll network around Atlanta.  An $834 million interstate toll-lane project is taking shape in the northwest Atlanta suburb, the start of an infrastructure makeover that officials say will lead to a network of reversible express lanes throughout the metro area. . . . The projects follow Georgia lawmakers adopting a $1 billion transportation plan earlier this year, plowing new money into road and bridge construction.   Tifton Gazette

IL: Illinois House approves DCEO privatization bill.A plan to privatize Illinois’ economic development agency and beef up its responsibilities has cleared the House. Representatives voted 60-6 Tuesday for the changes. The measure would allow the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to be turned into a public-private partnership, an idea Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner initially supported. Journal Star

MI: Michigan Union Will Try To Stop No-Bid Prison Food Contract. AFSCME Council 25 said a state board’s expected decision Tuesday to OK the no-bid contract with Trinity Services Group violates state law. Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration announced Monday that the state and current food vendor Aramark Correctional Services cut ties early and Trinity would do the work instead. The union says changing vendors without re-bidding the work is “bad business” that “cheats the public.” It says state employees should do the work like they were doing until two years ago. WILX-TV

July 14, 2015

The Verdict on Charter Schools?. . . Do charter schools lift students as much as they reflect the aspirations of political activists and private donors? It seems that the abstract idea of charter schools began to outshine hard evidence on whether they were having a positive impact on student learning. Established charter schools such as KIPP that have been in operation for years, along with those serving large shares of black and Latino kids, do often lift achievement at higher rates than do traditional counterparts. But charter campuses can limit the learning of white, urban students relative to their counterparts who remain in traditional public schools, according to Stanford’s Margaret Raymond, who tracked over 1 million charter students in dozens of cities over five years.   The Atlantic

PA: In Pennsylvania city, the poor are paying the price for a bad water deal. . . By all practical measures, Coatesville is 2 square miles of ghetto. Yet more than a dozen residents told Al Jazeera that, despite low use, they spend more than $100 each month for water, on par with residents of major cities such as San Francisco. All of their money goes to the private company that owns Coatesville’s water system, Pennsylvania-American Water Co., or PAWC. The dilapidation of Coatesville is closely intertwined with the growing cost of water. Back in 2001, city officials sold the rights to the system to PAWC, in the hopes that the revenue from the sale could spark an urban renaissance. But that turnaround never came. Now thousands of low-income people must pay exorbitant prices to access a basic resource. Al Jazeera America

PA: Fighting Back Through Resistance: Challenging the Defunding and Privatization of Public Education. . . The premise of the “Reclaiming the Promise of Pennsylvania’s Public Education” campaign is that the old Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, recently left office after having followed the national trend of defunding public education. This tour is designed to put pressure on the new Democratic Governor, Tom Wolfe, to make an effort to deliver on one of his key campaign promises, that is, to restore the millions of dollars that Corbett cut from public education while Governor. Truth-Out

NY: An Altar to Donald Trump Swallows Up Public Space in Manhattan. . . .What was promised as a pedestrian causeway in crowded Midtown Manhattan now more resembles an altar to Mr. Trump, one that New York City officials have struggled for a decade to dislodge. Now that he is vying for the Republican nomination, public-space advocates are hoping all the attention might help resolve their territorial dispute with Mr. Trump as well. It is a New York peculiarity that an atrium lined with golden mirrors, Gucci logos and an 80-foot waterfall would qualify as a public amenity. Yet there are hundreds of these privately owned public spaces, colloquially known as POPS, dotting Manhattan and a sliver of Brooklyn. New York Times

MI: Michigan ends prison food contract year after company fined. Michigan has terminated a three-year, $145 million contract with Aramark Correctional Services a year after the company hired to feed state prisoners came under scrutiny for unapproved menu substitutions, worker misconduct and other issues, state officials announced Monday. . . Michigan fined Aramark $200,000 last year for unauthorized food changes, inadequate staffing and employee misconduct such as fraternizing with inmates and drug smuggling.Centre Daily Times

MN: Residents Defeat Plan to Privatize and Demolish Glendale Townhomes. Following months of protests, residents of Glendale Townhomes, a public housing complex in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park Neighborhood, are claiming victory after pushing back city plans to demolish and privatize their community.   Socialist Alternative

WI: What Gov. Scott Walker is about to do to Wisconsin’s public schools. . . Buried within the budget are 135 non-budget policy items — a toxic cocktail of attacks on public education, democracy, environmental protections and labor rights. For Wisconsin’s schools, the budget is a blueprint for abandoning public education. In Milwaukee, in addition to insufficient funding, the budget includes a “takeover” plan that increases privatization and decreases democratic control of the city’s public schools. Washington Post (blog)

NY: New York ditches controversial test-maker Pearson. The state awarded a new five-year deal to Questar Assessment Inc., a Minneapolis-based company that has emerged in recent years as a smaller competitor to Pearson, the dominant vendor in the country’s lucrative standardized testing market. The switch allows the state to distance itself from Pearson, which has faced intense criticism for missteps and errors included in its New York tests and become symbolic of broader concerns about the privatization of public education. Chalkbeat Colorado

July 9, 2015

Feds throw cold water on GOP air traffic control privatization plan. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx threw cold water Wednesday on a Republican plan to privatize large portions of the nation’s air traffic control system. House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is expected to call for the creation of a new nongovernmental agency that would take over air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration in a forthcoming funding bill for the agency. Foxx said Wednesday during a meeting with reporters at the transportation department’s headquarters that he did not see the need to remove the federal government from the airplane navigation process. The Hill

USPS’s controversial deal with Staples headed to showdown over legality. The U.S. Postal Service’s outsourcing of stamp sales and other retail services traditionally offered by post offices to Staples has been a simmering wound with postal unions, with nationwide protests and calls for a boycott of the office-supply retailer. Now, one of the biggest labor battles in recent years is headed to Washington, where the National Labor Relations Board will rule in August on whether the Staples deal violates the Postal Service’s collective bargaining agreement with the American Postal Workers Union. Washington Post (blog)

Is Neoliberalism Finally Running Out of Tricks? Neoliberalism, the privatization and commoditization of everything that moves, has experienced a great run over the past three decades, jump-started in the 1980s by PM Thatcher and President Reagan, christened in 1951 by Milton Friedman. Decidedly, “austerity of governmental social programs” is the kissing cousin to “privatization of public assets” as part and parcel of neoliberal principles, for example, Troika (European Central Bank, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund) austerity and “the dismantling and privatization of public health and education systems” (Pablo Iglesias). Throughout Europe, Troika’s influence, or “neoliberalism on steroids,” has been hand-feeding kernels of dissent to popular uprisings. The imposition of draconian austerity measures inflicted upon Greece and the Mediterranean nation-states is rapidly, very rapidly, nursing a badly bruised European Left back to robust health. Pablo Iglesias, age 36, a former political science instructor, leads Spain’s leftwing anti-austerity Podemos party. He’s “the guy with the pony tail” on television with huge political impact. “The ‘People of the Television’—el pueblo de la television, or the TV nation, so to speak— didn’t know about a new political party called Podemos, but they knew about the guy with the pony tail,” (Understanding Podemos). CounterPunch

There’s a Contract for That. . .Some Michigan lawmakers are the latest to join Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi in considering the privatization of marriage by halting the issuance of state marriage licenses, thereby freeing people to make their own marriage contracts according to their conscience, religion and common sense. Those contracts could be registered with the state, recognized as legal and arbitrated by the courts, but the terms would be determined by those involved. Are these publicity stunts to show disdain for the idea of gay marriage? Maybe. However, the idea that states should get out of the business of regulating and granting permission to marry is hardly monopolized by religious fundamentalists. In fact, more and more people from all political backgrounds are beginning to ask the same question. Frankly, why does the state have to give citizens permission to marry?   Huffington Post

IN: Avoiding future highway congestion may come with a cost. . .Toll roads are just one approach transportation planners are taking as they try to ease the nation’s deepening traffic congestion. With little hope that the federal government will splurge on enough new construction to reverse traffic trends, the goal is to squeeze as much efficiency as possible out of current highways. . .. Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, won passage in 2014 of House Enrolled Act 1104, requiring the Indiana Department of Transportation work with outside experts to study alternative transportation funding mechanisms, such as changes to the 18 cents per gallon state gas tax — or the feasibility of a per-mile charge. Their first report to the Legislature is due this month. Soliday expects it will show the different ways of paying for roads and what the state would get using each method. Nwitimes.com

IN: Better Luck This Time: Analysts Optimistic on Indiana Toll Road. Months after the original private owner of the publicly owned toll road went bankrupt, the new owner, Australian fund manager fund IFM Investors, is set to complete the financing of its takeover bid next week. Bond Buyer

MA: Why something called the ‘Pacheco law’ is an MBTA battleground. . . What is the Pacheco law? The law doesn’t make it impossible to contract out work. In a nutshell, it requires agencies—like the T—to prove that a private contractor will provide cheaper and higher- or equal-quality services. Any proposal has to meet with state auditor approval. . . The Pioneer Institute, a fiscally conservative-leaning Massachusetts policy analysis group, says the law has cost the T hundreds of millions by preventing it from outsourcing. Pacheco law critics argue it accomplishes little beyond protecting union employees. Advocates of the law agree the law offers protection for labor, and the MBTA’s Carmen’s Union was quick to rally against Baker’s proposal to exempt the T. Advocates also say the law ensures any privately contracted work is not done at taxpayers’ expense—meaning that it actually saves money. And they argue the law does not impede privatization, often noting that since the law was passed, the vast majority of requests by the MBTA have been given approval. In-Depth-Boston.com

NJ: Debate continues over the future of Liberty State Park. Gov. Chris Christie and the Democratic-led Legislature made good on a promise this week to change a new law that some worried might pave the way for commercial development in the shadow of Lady Liberty. But the new law — frequently referred to as a fix — has not convinced everyone that the possibility of building up the park is off the table. seattlepi.com

July 8, 2015

Staples Deal With USPS Is Illegal: NLRB. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed a complaint against the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) related to the housing of contract postal units in Staples Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLS) stores. The NLRB has determined that the USPS violated the law when it opened its first postal counter in a Staples store in late 2013. The contract between the USPS and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) states that USPS management must bargain with the union before entering a deal like the one with Staples. That did not happen in this instance according to the union, which issued a press release on Monday and which wants the postal counters staffed by Staples employees closed. 24/7 Wall St.

Four Ways ALEC Tried to Ruin Your State This Year. ALEC’s legislative playbook for 2015 focused on blocking action on climate change, thwarting local democracy, attacking labor unions, and further privatizing public education in the U.S., as CMD reported last year in covering its legislative agenda for the year. Here are some of the worst policies ALEC legislators tried to push into binding law in state legislatures this year, so far. PR Watch

Supporters of highway tolls have hijacked our nation’s roadways – opinion. When drivers have experienced toll road proliferation at every turn, non-toll options are shrinking. Therefore, the 14 percent increase in toll road trips can be attributed to more toll roads being built that limit “free” options and force more and more drivers to pay in order to gain mobility on what was once a freely accessible public highway system. The cost of everything we buy is going up due to this explosion in our cost to travel and transport goods. Americans are experiencing it firsthand every time they buy groceries and other necessities. The Hill

NJ: As privatization of public services continues, is 911 dispatch next?. . . Camden City Business Administrator Robert Corrales said the city is only in the early stages of exploring the possibility of privatizing dispatch, and a committee is currently reviewing two bids they received from outside companies following the city’s request for bids earlier this year. . .The CWA isn’t waiting until then to make their concerns known, however. “Companies care more about making a profit then they do about the safety of Camden,” said Jim McAsey, a national staff representative with the CWA. “This rally is about good jobs, not just for 25 people but good jobs for all Camden workers.” NJ.com

NJ: New legislation on Liberty State Park signed. Gov. Christie signed legislation Monday that would provide new protections against any proposed commercial development at Liberty State Park but does not meet the expectations of park advocates, who still fear the site is “very vulnerable.” The law requires at least one hearing at the park over any project there, and gives the commissioner of environmental protection the right of final approval. An earlier version – which opponents feared would open the door to the park’s privatization and commercialization – was signed by the governor in February, then revised to offer protections to the site, a popular gateway to the Statue of Liberty. Philly.com

PA: Should Luzerne County employees compete with the private sector for their work? Outsourcing? Privatization? Luzerne County Councilman Jim Bobeck said the concept he’s pushing for is neither of those because he wants to open up some county work to outside bidders while still giving employees who perform that work a shot at submitting their own proposal to keep it. Known as “managed competition,” the technique has been used by some governments across the country as a way to shop around for other prices and options. . . County departments generally maintain they are doing the best they can with available resources and funding, he said. “What is the market of actually providing that service? You have no idea because you’ve never tested it,” Bobeck said. Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

IA: Federal Judge Backs Iowa Speed Cameras. A federal judge on Thursday decided not to allow the case against Iowa’s speed cameras to be heard by a jury. After hundreds of pages of legal briefs were filed over the course of ten months, US District Court Judge Linda R. Reade dismissed the class action case that motorists had filed in state court against the city of Cedar Rapids and Gatso, the Dutch company that owns and operates the cameras. The drivers, she argued, failed to meet the requirements needed to bring such a case. The lead plaintiff in the case, Gary Hughes, did not actually receive a speed camera ticket. Instead, he filed suit claiming a general harm to “his and every citizen’s interest in proper application of the Constitution and laws.” The judge was not impressed. TheNewspaper.com

IL: IL House Approves DCEO Privatization Bill. A plan to privatize Illinois’ economic development agency and beef up its responsibilities has cleared the House. CBS Local

July 7, 2015

Koch Brothers Believe National Parks Should Be Privatized. While many were celebrating with their families and enjoying festivities this weekend, an op-ed was published in the New York Times that made the case that the nation need not make any new parks. His reason: we cannot maintain the parks we have now. . . . It appears that, in order to address this growing problem, the Koch brothers are interested in privatizing the park systems. The author and co-author of the Times op-ed piece both work for the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). PERC is an organization interested in “property rights and environmental organization” and funded by none other than the Kochs. Ring of Fire

IL: Chicago Skyway up for sale: Report. Looking to buy a toll road? The long-term lease of the Chicago Skyway has gone up for sale, according to Reuters. The news agency reports that Spanish toll road investor Ferrovial and Australian investor Macquarie are offering their stakes in the toll road for sale to the highest bidder. Ferrovial is the parent company of Cintra. Cintra and Macquarie leased the 8-mile toll road in 2005, paying the city of Chicago $1.83 billion for the right to collect tolls and maintain the roadway through 2104. The Chicago Skyway was profitable in 2014 with revenue exceeding expenses by about $8 million. Land Line Magazine

FL: Fewer of tomorrow’s freeways will be free. Fewer of tomorrow’s freeways will be free. In exchange, drivers willing and able to pay to avoid the traffic congestion that bedevils everyone else. Toll lanes are an increasingly common solution in metropolitan regions with limited public space or money to widen highways. One increasingly popular idea is to convert carpool lanes to let solo drivers pay for a faster ride. In the future, non-carpool lanes might also be tolled. Florida Times-Union

LA: Legislative auditor: Medicaid privatization savings hard to nail down. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature Medicaid privatization program may be saving the state money, but it’s hard to tell for sure, the legislative auditor said Monday. . . The auditor recommended that the state health agency work with the Legislature to determine whether an independent actuary should be hired to determine if Bayou Health is saving the state money when compared with traditional Medicaid. Purpera’s office found flaws in some of the cost-savings reports the state health agency provided the Legislature. . . .Legislators have questioned cost savings in the past. The legislative auditor also has been critical of the information the health agency has provided, including an initial report largely based on data provided by the insurance companies involved in Bayou Health. The Advocate

NJ: Christie and his enablers jeopardize Liberty State Park – Editorial. When we last left the clash over Liberty State Park and its right to exist without some hideous commercial eyesore vandalizing its 600 pristine acres, it was trending unfavorably for the five million annual visitors who enjoy this hallowed ground in its present form. . . . Sweeney and Speaker Vincent Prieto have surrendered, essentially, with another bill that does not remove the Park from Christie’s crosshairs. No doubt, it makes significant improvements to the present law (environmental impact mandates, a public bidding process, and one measly day of public hearings), but it still gives authority to the MRC to “implement any plans” for development under the DEP. And that, indeed, has outraged park stewards and environmentalists who have made Liberty State Park an urban monolith without the help of some shopping mall architect… But this plan creates a legitimate fear that development could face few restraints. And now that the legislative fight seems lost, the public deserves to weigh in on projects, even if they’re not as large-scale as an amphitheater. Because the way this all started, the inherent distrust – in the process, in the governor, and in the lawmakers who enabled him – is wholly justified. The Star-Ledger

July 6, 2015

11 Most Expensive Toll Roads in America. . . When Interstate Highway System was introduced in the 1950s, it seemed that toll days are over, as federal regulation forbade toll collection on the roads built with federal money. However, this position was abandoned in the 1970s and states were free again to introduce tolls to fund road construction and maintenance. Despite huge network of tolls booths and the substantial amount of money that is collected through them, US still failed to make it onto the list of the 11 countries with the best roads in the world. To be quite honest though, United States do have the most extensive road network in the world and keeping it in order requires vast quantities of money. Insider Monkey

Charter Schools Are Mired in Fraud and Failure. The inadequacies of charter schools have been confirmed by many recent studies. Even CREDO, which is part of a conservative think tank funded by the pro-privatization Walton Foundation, recently found that in comparison to traditional public schools “students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.” Another recent CREDO study of California schools reached mixed results, with charters showing higher scores in reading but lower scores in math. AlterNet

Stop treating citizens as consumers – opinion. . . When people are framed as consumers, society becomes little more than a marketplace. Social problems get treated with individualized, market-oriented solutions — where each consumer-citizen is solely responsible for spotting deceptive practices and avoiding unfair schemes — instead of collective, rights-based protections. For instance, protecting against predatory financial institutions and data brokers is a duty largely shouldered by individuals, who must remain ever vigilant against companies that hide in the shadows and track our every move. The more marginalized and vulnerable you are, the more likely you are to be targeted and the less likely you are able to defend yourself. Al Jazeera America

PA: Wolf vetoes GOP liquor privatization bill. Gov. Tom Wolf said he vetoed legislation that would close the state’s liquor stores and permit private sales because it was not a “responsible means” of overhauling Pennsylvania’s liquor system and because it would hit Pennsylvanians in the pocketbook. “It makes bad business sense for the Commonwealth and consumers to sell off an asset, especially before maximizing its value,” Mr. Wolf said. “During consideration of this legislation, it became abundantly clear that this plan would result in higher prices for consumers.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TX: Toll road projects in limbo following legislative session. The Texas Legislature began this year’s session with a major case of toll fatigue. After more than a decade of letting local and state planners partially fund large highway projects through toll collections, most lawmakers had little appetite left for such projects. Some talked openly about scrapping many tolls already in place. Five months later, the state’s vast toll network remains intact, but the prospects for new toll projects have dimmed. In Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, major highway projects originally planned with toll lanes are in limbo as local officials try to work out the path ahead, according to lawmakers and state officials with knowledge of the projects. San Marcos Mercury

VA: Va. spends $260 million on unbuilt road, says it could’ve been worse. After paying a private company more than a quarter-billion dollars for a road that was never built, Virginia officials say they’ve reached an agreement for a modest refund. US 460 Mobility Partners . . . “It could have been a whole lot worse,” said Aubrey Layne, the state’s top transportation official. Layne said that a deal reached by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s administration left the state exposed, noting that 460 Mobility had been arguing that it was due an additional $103 million from the commonwealth. “Quite frankly, they probably would have won in litigation. The contract really did favor them,” Layne said. A spokeswoman for 460 Mobility said the company was “pleased to have reached an agreement to bring an amicable resolution” to the project. Washington Post

VA: McAuliffe signs bill that protects taxpayers in public-private deals. Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a settlement on what he described as a “disastrous” U.S. 460 project Thursday before ceremonially signing a bill that takes the burden off taxpayers if a future transportation collaboration falls through. Under the Public-Private Transportation Act, which was passed by the General Assembly this spring, a committee will be set up to vet projects before financing is acquired and accountability will lie with government officials, McAuliffe said. The Virginian-Pilot

CT: State mulls using private companies to fix roads, rail and bridges. A state panel charged with finding ways to fund a $100 billion upgrade of the state’s roads, rails and bridges on Tuesday received a crash course in how to partner with private companies and the highway tolls which typically fund the projects. Connecticut Post

MA: State poised to add hundreds of spots to city charter schools. ‎The state Education Department is poised to add hundreds of charter school seats in Boston, potentially loosening the logjam in a city where thousands of children remain on waiting lists. Boston Globe

NC: Company involved in I-77 toll lanes eyes early exit from Chicago operation. While business and civic leaders from the Charlotte area were traveling to Raleigh this week to voice opposition to the proposed toll lanes for Interstate 77, one of the companies contracted for that project has been looking to sell off its toll-road operation in Chicago. A report published by the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday outlines the situation unfolding there. An investor group formed by Cintra Infraestructura and the Macquarie Group is trying to sell its interest in operating the Chicago Skyway, a 7.8-mile stretch of toll road on the south side of the Windy City, according to that newspaper. Charlotte Business Journal

OH: Legislators push school privatization with little public input. . . “The academic distress commission has been redesigned and granted more powers,” State Senator Peggy Lehner (R- 6th District) explained. Kettering Senator Lehner says Governor John Kasich requested she lead this effort, as is custom for committee chairs. For schools that have failed 3 years in a row, primarily Youngstown School District, they’d see the most changes. The commission would have the power to privatize the district. A C.E.O would be hired, and could remove the elected education board and suspend a union and some of its collective bargaining agreements. For many education unions, they say this was a last-minute effort that shut out the public and union officials. WDTN

OH: Privatization of second Ohio prison authorized by state lawmakers. State lawmakers on Tuesday approved legislation to allow the sale of a second Ohio prison. House Bill 238, which cleared a final House vote, would put the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion on the auction block. Gov. John Kasich intends to sign the legislation, according to gubernatorial spokesman Rob Nichols. The money from the sale will be spent on initiatives to develop alternatives to prison for convicts, according to state prisons agency spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. cleveland.com

DC: Privatize Metro? Be careful what you wish for. With all of Metro’s problems handling emergencies and running day-to-day service, it’s only natural that the riders who follow my online chat would raise the possibility of an outside entity taking over the D.C. region’s transit system. Most comments suggested turning it over to a private company. But they should be careful what they wish for.   Washington Post (blog)           

June 24, 2015

The Senate’s proposed highway bill: Six years, $257 billion. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unveiled language for its proposed surface transportation reauthorization bill that is scheduled for markup on Wednesday, June 24.  Of note heading into Wednesday’s markup hearing, the bill does not seek to expand a pilot program that allows up to three interstate highways or bridges to be converted into toll roads, something that truckers and other highway users have been watching closely. The tolling pilot program would remain status quo under the proposal, with a provision added to say that if a state does not act on federal approval to pursue tolls within two years, the slot would open back up for another state to apply. The three slots in the current program are held by Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina, but to date, no currently toll-free interstate has been converted into a toll road under the program.  Land Line Magazine

Privatizing Primer. You may wonder how this is sustainable. It isn’t, and it isn’t meant to be. Charters routinely drop out of the business, move on, dissolve and reform under new names, getting out of Dodge before they have to offer proof of success. This churn and burn is a feature, not a bug, and it is supposed to foster excellence. To date, there is no evidence that it does so. But in the long term, we get a two-tier system. One is composed of private, profit-generating school-like businesses that will serve some of the students. The other is a vestigal public system, under-funded and under-served, but still serving as “proof” that public schools are failure factories and so we must have a state-run system. Huffington Post

IL:  House votes to privatize state commerce agency. The Illinois House has approved a plan to partially privatizate Illinois’ commerce agency. It’s one of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s ideas for economic development. But the version sponsored by Democrats would only authorize the partnership for three years. Peoria Public Radio

CT: State mulls using private companies to fix roads, rail and bridges. A state panel charged with finding ways to fund a $100 billion upgrade of the state’s roads, rails and bridges on Tuesday received a crash course in how to partner with private companies and the highway tolls which typically fund the projects. CT Post

OH: Ohio decides to renew prison food contract with Aramark. Ohio on Tuesday renewed a contract to feed the state’s 50,000 prison inmates with a company whose early troubles getting the job done led to criticism over privatizing the service. The state rejected a counterproposal by the union representing prison guards and other workers after a four-person panel determined the union’s plan would cost too much. The $130 million agreement with Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services extends through June 30, 2017.The company faced criticism last year over understaffing, running out of food and a few cases of maggots near food prep areas. The State

MD: In Baltimore, Rec Centers Provide So Much More Than Just Fun. Local recreation centers, which have a long tradition in the city, provide a much-needed refuge. . . . “Most of the folks from this community at some point have stepped foot inside this center. As you can see it’s connected to the elementary school,” Fowlks says. “We had some great leaders over the past, that helped groom us to become adults.”That’s why the city has taken heat for closing or privatizing a dozen rec centers since 2012. Rachel Donegan, of the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work’s Promise Heights program, says closing some makes sense. Attendance has dropped as the city’s population declined. But she says it’s still left some feeling they have no place to go. NPR