October 22, 2014

News

Effects of New Inspection Rules on Poultry and Other Meat. . . Touted in the press as the “privatization’ of poultry inspection, critics raise concerns that leaving more of the inspection responsibility to the facilities themselves will reduce the effectiveness and objectivity of the inspections. At the same time, the process of transitioning to this new poultry inspection system has raised questions about whether the transition has caused a decrease in the effectiveness of the entire USDA system. . . . The net result of NPIS will be to reduce the USDA presence in the targeted poultry facilities by as many as 630 poultry inspectors nationwide. In anticipation of the implementation of the new system, USDA has implemented hiring freezes on inspectors across the board so that they are prepared to integrate the displaced poultry inspectors into other poultry or red meat plants. During this interim period, critics claim there is a severe shortage of USDA inspectors nationwide. Food Safety Magazine

The Future Of Toll Roads In The US. Toll road mileage is increasing nationwide as cash-strapped states try to relieve traffic congestion without raising taxes. But some transportation officials are facing a political backlash. Diane and her guests discuss the future of toll roads in the U.S. The Diane Rehm Show

TX: NCTCOG Acknowledges Public Criticism, Drops Private Toll Road Idea. From the beginning, the private toll road that would run parallel to Interstate 30 seemed like a sure thing, no matter how many people who lived in the way who said they didn’t want the road. . . . Late last Friday, however, local transportation planners suddenly seemed to care what the residents thought. The North Central Texas Council of Governments announced in a press release Friday afternoon that it is no longer recommending the toll road proposal be included in the Mobility 2035 plan, a key document that outlines where federal transportation money is going to go. Dallas Observer (blog)

TX: Opinion: Time to put the brakes on building more toll roads. . . For years some local and state officials have regarded privately built toll roads as an acceptable alternative to the decreasing state and federal funding needed to construct “free” highways. More toll roads are on the drawing board, but some members of the public and political leaders are raising objections to the pay-as-you-drive system of transportation. Last week, in reaction to an outcry from residents and municipalities along the route, the North Central Texas Council of Governments withdrew the Northeast Gateway, a proposed toll road between Rowlett and Greenville, from its long-term transportation plan. That doesn’t mean that the highway won’t be built, but the council’s action has to be viewed as an obstacle to construction. Several candidates for public office, including some who are likely to win election in November, are on record opposing construction of more toll lanes.   Fort Worth Star Telegram

TX: Texas selects company to run psychiatric facility. . . State health officials said privatization might be the best way to improve the hospital, which was scrutinized following a patient’s death. . . . . .Mental health advocates have protested the privatization move and said there has been a lack of transparency in the bidding process. They say they were blindsided by the move to put a private company in control of the hospital. “There was a shocking lack of transparency in the process, which raises alarms about transparency in the contracting and oversight of the facility and patient care,” said Lynn Lasky Clark, president of Mental Health America of Texas. Still, state officials say they are listening to those concerns. News & Observer

GA: MARTA, transit union in standoff over privatizing paratransit operations. . . MARTA is moving to privatize Mobility, which the perpetually cash-strapped transit agency says could save tens of millions of dollars. But privatized paratransit here has failed before, and has a track record of lower-grade performance than in-house versions, says the Amalgamated Transit Union’s Atlanta chapter. Mobility provides curb-to-curb assisted service by car or van to qualified riders. . . MARTA must “deal with providing paratransit service without breaking the bank,” says agency spokesman Lyle Harris. . . . [A]n Oct. 13 Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed, union president Curtis Howard unloaded on the privatization plan as a “dismantling and selling off of MARTA.” “It means endangering riders aboard unsafe vehicles operated by overworked and underpaid part-time employees driving over 30 hours per week,” he wrote. Creative Loafing Atlanta

FL: Opinion: School-voucher groups fill mailboxes with malarkey. . . .The group is called the Florida Federation for Children — a school-voucher advocacy group that is trying to sway elections all over the state, from local school boards to state House seats. In one mailer, the group accuses Democratic House incumbent Karen Castor Dentel of wanting to de-fund public schools. It’s an odd position for Castor-Dentel … seeing as how she’s a school teacher. Nonetheless, the Florida Federation (which is backing Republican challenger Bob Cortes in the Maitland-area District 30 race) claims that Castor-Dentel wants schools “unfunded” and special-needs children “ignored.” . . .Unfortunately, the Florida Federation for Children (which gets funding by a Washington D.C.-based school-choice advocacy group) is getting involved in state and local races all over Florida. It is trying to sway school-board races in Volusia and Sarasota counties. And it’s trying to oust other legislative incumbents who have pushed for accountability and limits on voucher programs. Orlando Sentinel

 

 

 

October 21, 2014

News

The epic struggle over retirement. . . Alongside these financial pressures, mainly caused by the recession, has been a relentless campaign waged by right-wing ideologues — many of them hedge fund managers — to loot public pension funds, which presages the real retirement battle on the horizon: Social Security. In a recent report titled “The Plot Against Pensions” (PDF), David Sirota persuasively argues that privatization cheerleaders are following a model of “pensions today, Social Security tomorrow.” Leading the pension battle is John Arnold, a hedge fund billionaire who is systematically courting political support to eliminate state pension plans and replace them with privatized defined contribution plans managed by Wall Street. This, despite the fact that public pension funds were among the biggest losers in the financial crash of 2008. Shortfalls have only grown since then. Many states have failed to make required contributions into their pension funds, while massive layoffs of public workers have worsened the balance between current contributions and future obligations. The problem is thus very real, but proposals such as Arnold’s are very likely to make it worse. Al Jazeera America

Captive Customers: Outsourcing Prison Services Is Ruining Lives and Bilking Taxpayers. Introducing for-profit companies into America’s criminal justice system has been a bad deal for governments across the country. During the past several years, a movement opposed to profit incentives in our criminal justice system has grown. Private prison corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group have come under increasing scrutiny and pressure for cutting corners, contracts that include “occupancy guarantees” of 80, 90 and even 100 percent and unsafe prison conditions. But it’s not just the prisons that are handed over to CCA or GEO group. Almost every service delivered inside the prison is being outsourced to for-profit corporations. Outsourced inmate health care, food and commissary services, telephone and financial services like money transfers between families and inmates are all adding to the poor conditions in prisons and burdening inmates and their families with extra costs. Huffington Post

Shocking Stat: Modern-Day America Has 870000 Slaves. . . Privatization is the multi-headed hydra driving the American justice system, and prison labor is just one example of how keeping people in jail is good for business. We live in a country where arbitrary bed quotas in immigrant detention centers require officials to hold non-violent detainees for months at a time. Modern-day debtors’ prisons keep impoverished offenders chained to the carceral state for minor infractions like speeding or failing to pay fines. Shoplifting a $159 jacket can earn you life in prison. And hundreds of thousands of inmates mass-produce cheap goods for the state. Schwartzapfel brings her article to a close with a question: We may all agree that by committing certain crimes, people forfeit their right to be free, at least for a time. Must that also mean they forfeit their right to fair pay for their work? Ultimately, does it serve justice—or benefit the economy—to have so many people released from prison with sizable debts, no job skills, and nowhere to turn but to crime or the government safety net? AlterNet

Controversy Brews As Voters Take on Traffic Cameras. Red light camera and speed camera companies are seeing their market diminish rapidly, and employees are nervous. In two weeks, voters in three states have a chance to outlaw automated ticketing through local ballot measures. . . . In Cleveland, Ohio, members of the Camera Removal team “occupied” various intersections last week to raise awareness of ballot Issue 35, which bans speed cameras and red light cameras. The bipartisan effort was sponsored by Black on Black Crime and Liberate Ohio. The city council did not attempt to block the vote after the initiative petition was certified as valid. The vote is also scheduled in nearby Maple Heights after the state Supreme Court blasted the city for its attempt to block the public from having a say in whether cameras are used. As a result, Proposed Charter Amendment 99 was added to the ballot. TheNewspaper.com

TX: In Texas, Toll Roads Proliferate—and a Backlash Builds. . . However, Texas toll roads face mounting opposition, including within the state’s Republican Party, which amended its platform this year to add language hostile to toll roads. “A large segment of our party believes in having free access to transportation,” said Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. Texas lawmakers are reacting to criticism in areas such as Collin County, north of Dallas. There, the proposal to convert lanes on U.S. Highway 75 to tolls sparked a firestorm from residents who noted that Plano, Texas, would be nearly surrounded by toll roads. . . Still, while toll-road proponents acknowledge changing political realities, they predict Texas and other states will continue adding toll lanes. Wall Street Journal

TX: Coalition of pastors urges support for public schools – opinion. . . Those advocating privatization have attacked the public school system and falsely labeled neighborhood schools failures. This arbitrary judgment has been exposed as a cynical strategy to divert public education money for private purposes, and has brought advocates like us to the fight against privatization and in support of initiatives that tell the true story about the value of our public schools. The “choice” that corporate chain charters and private schools claim to offer parents and students is illusory. It is really these private operators who exercise their own freedom to choose which students they will recruit and retain and which students they will exclude or filter out. And the latter group will disproportionately include Hispanics, African-Americans, English language learners, students with disabilities and students who are at risk because of disciplinary or academic difficulties. These children are our neighbors, too.We join with Dallas community leaders and parents who understand that we must keep our attention upon the real and pressing — and constitutionally mandated — need for full funding for public education. Dallas Morning News

OH: Group Targets Gov Kasich For ‘Privatization’ Efforts. A national anti-privatization group has targeted Republican incumbent Gov. John Kasich over his signature policy decision, his public-private entity that replaced the state Department of Development. . . .But a national group that tracks and criticizes privatization and outside contracting cites Kasich in a report blasting him and the governors of six other states for the outsourcing of state services, which they say has enriched private companies with public dollars. Lisa Graves with In the Public Interest notes the state auditor is now prohibited from doing a full audit of JobsOhio. WOSU

MA: Massport mulls privatizing Southie dock to raise cash. Fresh off a successful lobbying campaign to secure state and federal funding for a $310 million Boston Harbor dredging project, Massport says it now needs up to $200 million more and is considering privatizing a busy South Boston containership port to raise the money. “A move to privatize would be a slap in the face to taxpayers after putting up federal and state commitments to fund the $310 million dredging project,” said state Rep. Nick Collins (D-South Boston). “Privatization should be taken off the table. We can talk about other options and we should. I’m surprised they haven’t done that yet, given that we were just in discussion with them over the dredging.” Boston Herald

WV: Constitutional amendment raises questions of privatization, necessity. A constitutional amendment that would allow the Boy Scouts of America to operate for-profit ventures at the Summit Bechtel Reserve is looming on the Nov. 4 ballet, and voters are being asked to make changes to the constitution for one entity while leaving amendment safeguards in the hands of legislators at a later date. Tighe Bullock, Thurmond councilman and West Virginia University law student, asks questions about using the constitution to benefit one entity based on its monetary worth. The proposed amendment is carefully crafted to only include organizations focused on adventure, education and recreation for young people on property worth more than $100 million — the Summit Bechtel Reserve.”Equality is at the core of of West Virginia’s Constitution. To require any monetary amount to qualify for constitutional protection, much less the proposed $100 million requirement, goes sharply against this notion,” he said. Beckley Register-Herald

 

 

October 20, 2014

News

TX: Regional agency pulls support for Garland-to-Greenville toll road. The North Central Texas Council of Governments on Friday reversed its recommendation to add a controversial rural toll road to the region’s long-term transportation plan. The decision could complicate a private company’s development of the Northeast Gateway — but it doesn’t necessarily kill it. NCTCOG is sending comments and petition signatures from more than 4,500 people who oppose the Rowlett-to-Greenville road to the Texas Department of Transportation. TxDOT will determine whether Texas Turnpike Corp. should conduct a tougher environmental study of the project than originally planned. Dallas Morning News

TX: Dallas Transport Agency Cooks Up Fishy Traffic Projections. We’ve reported on the way state agencies justify spending on expensive road expansions by overestimating the traffic that will materialize in the future. In an encouraging sign, one local press outfit is calling out the fishy traffic projections before a project gets built. Brandon Formby of the Dallas Morning News‘ Transportation Blog (yes, it’s a long-time member of the Streetsblog Network) has been taking a critical look at traffic projections from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Big D’s regional planning agency. Residents who oppose the 28-mile Northeast Gateway-Blackland Prairie toll road – planned for a rural area between Garland and Greenville — question the assumptions behind the project. The numbers certainly do look suspicious. Sreetsblog

IN: Lease critics urge Indiana to reclaim toll road. Lawmakers including Sen. Joe Donnelly are urging the state to reclaim the Indiana Toll Road amid concerns over whether its bankrupt operator can maintain the 157-mile roadway. Chicago-based ITR Concession Co. filed for bankruptcy in Chicago last month. It wants to sell the toll road lease to a new operator. Donnelly calls the situation “a mess of epic proportions” and says travelers have complained of long waits at toll plazas, bridges that haven’t been repaired in over a year and rest stops that reek of urine. . . .Experts say ITR’s bankruptcy filing isn’t enough to return the road to state control under terms of the 2006 lease. WISH-TV

KS: Kids as Crash Test Dummies: Brownback Outsources Child Support Services to Donor. When he was elected in 2010, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback began to slash core government services and privatize the rest. His austerity politics resulted in the state being downgraded by S&P in August 2014, and his privatization initiatives have also drawn criticism, causing one leading Republican to state, “I had hoped that it wouldn’t be as extreme as it’s been … what we didn’t know was that Sam would use this state as crash test dummies for his own fiscal experiments.” Kids receiving child support payments from absent parents would be among Brownback’s first “crash test dummies.” Huffington Post

VA: Virginia Board Proposes Tighter P3 Rules. Virginia officials would have to notify lawmakers and the public of potential risks to the state from any new transportation public-private partnership under revised procurement guidelines proposed Tuesday by the director of the commonwealth’s transportation P3 office. . . .The transportation board will have the responsibility to review the financial risks involved before any state money is spent on a P3 project, before it goes into the procurement process, and before a final contract is signed, he said. “There will be no quiet decisions made,” Koelemay said. Bond Buyer

FL: Inmates Die in Droves After Governor Rick Scott Outsources Prison Healthcare. Suffering from lung cancer? Here’s a Tylenol and some warm compresses. Are your intestines escaping? Not to worry; here’s some K-Y Jelly to shove them back in. Between 2008 and 2013, Corizon Health – the country’s largest prison health care provider – was sued 660 times for malpractice. But Governor Rick Scott’s administration failed to take note of this history when it awarded Corizon a $1.2 billion contract in 2011. Now an investigation by The Palm Beach Post reveals that Florida inmates have been dying in droves since the state privatized prison health care. PR Watch

MT: Montana public education under attack, officials say at Missoula conference. . . “The opponents of public education haven’t read our Constitution,” said Eric Feaver, president of the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers. “Should a bill like these ever pass the Legislature, we’ll be in court to discuss that issue.” . . . Feaver views the push toward privatization as a drive toward profiteering and ideology. He said the state already allows for charter schools, though the option hasn’t been pursued by advocates. . . . .“Another element the privatization folks seem to miss is that our Board of Public Education already has rules in place for charter schools,” she said. “Those charter schools need to be under the control of a school district and locally elected school trustees. It’s the part they don’t like.” The Missoulian

PA: Gubernatorial Campaign Leaves Liquor Privatization Behind. A once popular issue is now falling into the background, especially in the upcoming gubernatorial general election: the privatization of liquor. Back in January of 2013, Governor Tom Corbett proposed changing Pennsylvania’s liquor laws and joining the already “48 other states,” whose sale and control of wine and spirits rests in the hands of the private market. Utah is the only other state with controls similar to Pennsylvcania’s. Although state liquor laws vary greatly and government oversight – or lack thereof – is by no means uniform from state to state, Corbett was adamant about eliminating the barriers in place that restricted the sale of wine and liquor to state-stores only. . . .In Corbett’s re-election bid, however, he has spoken very little on the privatization of liquor. . . . But a Republican majority in the Senate is not as open to the idea of liquor privatization as its House counterpart. 90.5 WESA

OK: Opinion: The failed Lake Texoma redevelopment. . . In Oklahoma, our state land commission is suing Aubrey McClendon’s Pointe Vista Development for failing to construct a promised hotel since purchasing a large section of Lake Texoma State Park in 2008. . . . But the end result of all their promotion of the project was that 758 acres of federally protected park land now hangs in the balance in the Oklahoma County District Court. Meanwhile, Pointe Vista has just received Marshall County approval for a private rural water and sewer district to serve their planned residential development north of U.S. Highway 70 adjacent to the Chickasaw Pointe Golf Course. This does nothing to meet their legal obligation to construct the promised hotel and convention center which they could have begun in 2008. We have reached the endgame of a dispute with an estimated $100 million in public lands at stake if the state fails to act to protect the public investment in Lake Texoma State Park. State and federal officials conspired to take this park land from the public taxpayers. They violated multiple state and federal laws in the process. Privatization without public accountability is nothing less than theft. Durant Daily Democrat

 

October 17, 2014

News

MI: Governor Snyder Stands Behind Prison Privatization, Even After Maggots and Murder for Hire. Ideological slogans often trump facts when it comes to the outsourcing of public services. When independent studies are commissioned, the conclusions are often disregarded. In some cases, however, there seems to be solid research supporting the cost-efficiency of privatization. Such was the case in Michigan – at least at first glance. PR Watch

TX: Plans for Texas’ First Private Toll Road Roll On — and Right Over People in its Path. For the people who live in the countryside east of Lake Ray Hubbard and Lake Lavon, the appeal is in the quiet rural roads, dense trees, wild animals in the woods and bright stars shining in the night sky. To a Dallas company called the Texas Turnpike Corp., all that open space is a sign that not enough stuff has been built yet. “A review of an aerial map of the metroplex shows that there is a lack of development to the north and east of Dallas,” said a report the corporation prepared and sent in 2012 to the mayor of Lavon, a small town on the eastern shore of the lake. “Lake Ray Hubbard and Lake Lavon have blocked access to the area and stifled growth.” Texas Turnpike Corp. had a fix for that “lack of development:” a private toll road, developed by none other than Texas Turnpike Corp. Dallas Observer (blog)

IN: Plans call for right to run the Ind. Toll Road to be sold at auction. . . . It’s expected that the right to run the Indiana Toll Road will be auctioned off to the highest bidder in bankruptcy court in Chicago in the next three or four months. “Indiana can approve a new operator or changes that might happen with that operating lease, which they’re not likely to do,” said Kevin Kelly. “And thirdly, if that all goes to heck, Indiana gets the road back free and clear.” If no bidders take part in the auction, ITRCC’s $6 billion dollar debt would be reduced to $2.75 billion and ITRCC would remain in control according to ITRCC executive Fernando Redondo. The bankruptcy could be a damper on efforts to build new toll road travel plazas. Bids are due on October 24th. ITRCC is looking for private companies interested in designing, building and operating new plazas. WNDU-TV

WI: WEDC slammed in report on privatization of public services. . . And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker heads the new quasi-private Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which has handed out awards to Walker campaign donors and firms that have offshored jobs. According to one report, Walker donors ended up getting 60 percent of the funding from WEDC even though they made up only 30 percent of the recipients. Madison.com

FL: Florida Appeals Court Strikes Down Red Light Cameras. In a dramatic reversal of a decision handed down six months ago, the Florida Court of Appeals decided Wednesday that the way red light cameras are operated throughout the state is unlawful. A three-judge panel unanimously set aside its April 23 opinion, replacing it with a decision that represents bad news for automated ticketing vendors and cities that rely upon them. “For the reasons set forth herein, we… find that the city is not authorized to delegate police power by entering into a contract that allows a private vendor to screen data and decide whether a violation has occurred before sending that data to a traffic infraction enforcement officer (TIEO) to use as the basis for authorizing a citation,” Judge Mark W. Klingensmith wrote in the new decision. “Such outsourcing to a third-party for-profit vendor of a city’s statutorily mandated obligation to issue uniform traffic citations for red light camera violations is contrary to the plain wording of the Florida statutes.” TheNewspaper.com

PA: Philadelphia Charter School To Cut Enrollment. An embattled Philadelphia charter school is abruptly cutting its enrollment in half tomorrow, leaving 600 students searching for new schools, two months into the school year. CBS Local

NY: Backlash grows against letting charter schools submit proposals to take over struggling city schools. A backlash has quickly mounted to the Buffalo School Board majority’s “rammed-through” request last week that the state allow an unprecedented third round of charter school proposals for the takeover of struggling city public schools facing closure. Several dozen members of Citizen Action, PUSH Buffalo and Lafayette High School stood in front of Lafayette with minority board members Wednesday morning to protest the lack of community input before the controversial School Board vote Oct. 8. Buffalo News

October 16, 2014

News

New Report Exposes Governors Who Helped Powerful Lobbies & Campaign Donors Boost Profits at Taxpayer Expense. A new report by the Center for Media and Democracy, Pay to Prey: Governors Facilitate the Predatory Outsourcing of Public Services, details a national trend of outsourcing experiments gone awry. “Governors across the nation seem to be reading out of the ALEC playbook, attempting to shrink government by selling off the profitable services to private companies,” said Lisa Graves the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “While success stories are hard to find, fiascos are thick on the ground. In state after state, the result has been worse outcomes for the public, scandal, lawsuits, and scorching headlines.” The report highlights the efforts of governors across the country to outsource important public services to private firms with high-powered lobbyists and related campaign contributions. The report includes examples from multiple states. eNews Park Forest

Trillions in Global Cash Await Call to Fix Crumbling U.S.. . . Institutional investors such as Montreal-based Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec have capital and want to invest in U.S. infrastructure because it meets their long-term objectives, said Macky Tall, Caisse’s vice president of private equity and infrastructure. The Caisse is Canada’s second-biggest pension-fund manager, with C$214.7 billion ($190.7 billion) in net assets as of June 30. There hasn’t been more investment because the U.S. is behind other countries in tapping private capital, Tall said, and there’s been a lack of expertise, legal authority or receptivity to it in some parts of the country. Bloomberg

NC: Charter School Power Broker Turns Public Education Into Private Profits. Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls. ProPublica

IN: Toll Road board hears about “worn out” road. . . .”For all intents and purposes the whole concrete road is worn out,” said board member Kevin Kelly, who is president of construction company Walsh & Kelly. “It has served its useful life.” In comments after the meeting, Kelly said an annual report on the road showed private operator Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. is in substantial compliance with its lease, including road maintenance. . . . “We get more complaints about the service stops than anything else,” said board member John Letterman, of Elkhart. “How Indiana looks to the world is part of this,” he added. . . . Since the bankruptcy, a number of elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, have called for Indiana to exert its rights under the lease and take the road back. At the time the lease was under negotiation, then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels declared the state could take the road back if the operator ever went bankrupt. It is not clear from the Toll Road Concession Agreement if that can actually be done. If the state did commandeer the road, it most likely would be sued by the bondholders, who could claim to be owed billions of dollars. nwitimes.com

IN: Infrastructure investors line up for Indiana toll road. Some of the world’s largest pension funds and infrastructure investors are forming consortia to bid for the operator of an Indiana toll road that filed for bankruptcy last month, according to people familiar with the matter. The interest in the asset shows that infrastructure investors have not been fazed by the failure of one of the largest privatisations of U.S. infrastructure, even though any deal is expected to come at a significant discount to its original value. . . . Australia’s Hastings Funds Management has partnered with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) and Italian toll road operator Autostrade Meridionali SpA , the people said. The West Australian

TX: Foes try to bring proposed toll road to a dead stop. Critics of a toll road connecting Bush Turnpike to Hunt County brought their fight Tuesday to this city of about 25,000 along Interstate 30, the planned terminus for the divisive Northeast Gateway. As Hunt County commissioners, who largely support the project, prepared to meet, toll road opponents stood outside a county building with signs that said, “No eminent domain for private gain” and “Hands off our land.” It was one of several government meetings that opponents attended Tuesday to express their opposition to a road that many say will ruin a rural way of life. A growing number of area city councils, including in Fate, Lavon, Rockwall, Sachse and Wylie, formally oppose the project. Dallas Morning News

October 15, 2014

News

IN: Donnelly: State should take Toll Road back. US Sen. Joe Donnelly said the Indiana Toll Road lease turned out to be “mess of epic proportions” and the state should take management back now as the Spanish-Australian consortium operating it has gone bankrupt. nwitimes.com

CA: California getaways leave Utahns racking up toll road fines. Utah residents love to relax in sunny California. But a new automated toll road system in Orange County is causing a lot of stress and leaving many drivers facing hundreds of dollars in late fees. KSL.com

IL: Study: Chicago charter schools lag traditional ones. Charter schools have failed to improve Chicago’s public school system and perform less ably than comparable traditional schools, according to a new report from an urban research group at the University of Minnesota Law School. The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity concludes in its report that, taking into consideration factors such as economic status, Chicago charters lag behind neighborhood schools in producing students who meet or exceed standards for reading and math, as well as in graduation rates. The institute also says its research found that “charters are much less likely to be racially or ethnically diverse.”   Chicago Tribune

KY: Anti-tolls group: We’re growing rapidly. Northern Kentucky United now has more than 60 local businesses and organizations and political leaders signed on as members, the coalition announced Monday. The group launched its “No BS Tolls” campaign on Oct. 2 with about 10 core members. “There has been a misperception that Northern Kentucky’s business community is in support of tolls,” coalition leader Joe Meyer said. “Based on the intensity of interest in our coalition … I’m confident it will become clear that Northern Kentucky residents and the broader business community do not support tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge.” Debate over whether the state will pass legislation leading to the use of tolls to help pay for the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge project is heating up as the Kentucky General Assembly prepares for the start of its next session in January. Cincinnati.com

TX: Northeast Corridor opponents deride officials, tell Hunt County commissioners they don’t want toll road.More than 30 people from across North Texas showed up in front of a Hunt County government building Tuesday to protest a planned rural toll road from Garland to Greenville. “We’re all citizens not wanting this thing,” said Bryan Slaton, a Royse City resident who spoke in front of the crowd of residents. Many opponents to Northeast Gateway held signs that said, “No eminent domain for private gain,” and “Hands off our land.” Dallas Morning News (blog)

LA: Connected company gets work release contracts. . . Over the last five years, Louisiana Workforce has quietly come to dominate the state’s lucrative and obscure world of privately run work-release programs, which allows private owners to profit handsomely from the labor of captives. Perkins, the company’s owner, says the company’s success is a function of quality. But he has also assiduously courted the favor of sheriffs around the state through political contributions, and he also boasts unmatched relationships with DOC’s top brass. WWL

 

October 14, 2014

News

IL: Chicago’s charter-schools experiment flops: report. Chicago’s massive experiment in adding charter schools pretty much is a flop, one in which the charters do little better than conventional schools and in some ways lag behind. That’s the eye-catching conclusion of a new report issued by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School . . . Pound for pound, charters should do better than typical neighborhood schools because parents, who have to go to special trouble to enroll their children, presumably are more invested in their kids’ performance, Mr. Orfield suggests. However, “after controlling for the mix of students and challenges faced by individual schools, Chicago’s charter schools actually underperform their traditional counterparts in most measurable ways,” he says. Crain’s Chicago Business (blog)

OH: Charter school leases draw criticism from liberal group. Three Cleveland and two Akron charter schools are among those being criticized for renting expensive space from the schools’ management company. Liberal group ProgressOhio on Monday released information about lease and management fees obtained through public records requests and state audits. The records show schools paying 20 percent of their operating budgets on rent and thousands of dollars more in “indirect costs” to run the schools. . . . “Over half of the money that goes to these schools is not going to the classroom — it’s going to the lease and additional management fee for these for-profit companies,” ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg said during a news conference. The Plain Dealer

LA: Number of state workers down 30K over 6 years. . . The shrinking of the state government workforce by one-third stems largely from Jindal’s privatization of many government functions and facilities, most notably in the health care arena. The biggest hit to state employment ranks — about 7,000 jobs — came as LSU turned over the management of nine of its 10 charity hospitals to private managers, a process that wrapped up during the last budget year. The privatization push — part of Jindal’s political agenda — started early on, and the pace picked up in his second term in office. Reorganization of department operations has eliminated many jobs during the Jindal years. . .For instance, the Office of Motor Vehicles has fewer staffers to help with driver’s licenses, renewals and the like. The Department of Children and Family Services has lost many of its employees in local communities. Shreveport Times

FL: Florida Public Universities’ Corporations Raise Immunity, Disclosure Questions. The business of Florida’s 12 public universities is supposed to be public like any other state agency. Salaries, contracts, policies and other university business records are supposed to be subject to Florida’s expansive Sunshine Law, which mandates that most government actions be open to scrutiny. But that’s not always happening. The universities are getting around Florida’s public records law through dozens of private corporations that have been created over the years to oversee everything from athletic programs to dorm construction to salaries. Under state law, these university corporations don’t have to make public the same records their parent universities must provide, though the corporations perform tasks once done by school employees and act on the universities’ behalf.  Insurance Journal

TX: Private Tollway Will Be a Moneymaker, Say Firms Hired by Private Tollway Company. . . Controversy over NCTCOG’s numbers began at a meeting on September 22. A woman from the public named Christine Hubley announced that she had dug up some data from the Texas Department of Transportation showing much lower future traffic projections than NCTCOG’s estimates. The News followed up with a story on the discrepancy, writing that while NCTCOG predicts anywhere from a 70 to 503 percent increase in drivers along different sections of the so-called Blacklands Corridor, the state’s figures stay in the more conservative range of 23.3 percent to 65.1 percent. Dallas Observer (blog)

PA: Allentown School District likely to outsource substitute teachers. . . Administrators introduced plans at Thursday’s school board Finance Committee meeting to outsource substitutes who work between 15 and 89 cumulative days for an average of at least 30 hours a week. . . . Outsourcing would allow the district to more effectively meet its demand for substitute teachers and also avoid the Affordable Care Act mandate to offer health care to substitutes who work an average of 30 hours a week or more, according to the district. Allentown Morning Call

CA: Mission Playground is not for sale! Rally against park privatization. There are many things for sale in the beautiful city of San Francisco – often times with the goods going to the highest bidder. But what is certain in the community is that there are goods that are not for sale: Mission Playground being one of them. But this is all much bigger and much more nuanced than just Mission Playground. San Francisco Bay Guardian

October 13, 2014

News

IL: Chicago Toll Road Gets Go-Ahead From Regional Transportation Group. A regional transportation body voted Thursday to move forward on a $1.5 billion public-private toll road outside Chicago, a day after a different group of local officials tried to kill the project. . . .The Illiana Expressway has long been discussed here as a way to improve travel south of Chicago and help speed up interstate trucking. The toll road, opposed by some local officials and environmental groups, has the backing of the governors of Illinois and Indiana and is expected to receive final approval from federal officials in coming months. Wall Street Journal

IL: Red-Light Cameras, Fuzzy Math And Breadsticks. . .Take the case of the red-light cameras, which recently generated $8 million in city revenue on 77,000 tickets related to yellow lights shorter than Chicago’s autumn. The city said, in essence: “Our bad. We fired the first band of greedy corporate dullards who bribed their way into that contract. We are certain—well, let’s say hopeful—the new band greedy corporate dullards will do much better. “Oh, and even if there IS a problem, we can have one of the city’s two embattled and hamstrung inspectors general make sure everything is on the up and up.’’ The beauty of privatization, other than the financial windfall, luxury junkets, and general abdication—having more people to blame when things go completely tits up. How can you blame Mayor Rahm Emanuel for making Chicago the subject of the world’s largest outsourced traffic enforcement program, though? I mean, the privatization of our parking meters was such a rousing success. Chicagoist

TX: Toll road opponents plan ‘Super Tuesday’. . . The activist group Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF) plans to hold a press conference at 9:30 a.m. on Tue. Oct. 14 in front of the Hunt County Auxiliary Courtroom at 2700 Johnson St. in Greenville. TURF also plans to make its case during the Hunt County Commissioners Court meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. at that same location. The organization has announced intentions to have supporters present later that evening at city council meetings in Caddo Mills, Greenville, Royse City and Rowlett. Organizers are referring to the coordinated activities as “Super Tuesday.” Six cities along the proposed road’s possible pathway – Fate, Lavon, Nevada, Rockwall, Sachse and Wylie – have passed resolutions opposing the proposed toll road. 88.9 KETR

Private prisons face suits, federal probes. Conditions have become so terrible in some private prisons that some have been kicked out. Florida-based GEO got the boot in Mississippi after a federal judge in 2012 called the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.” In Idaho, the FBI is investigating the Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America after allegations that records were falsified to cover up staff shortages at the Idaho Correctional Center, where gangs ruled and violence was so rampant it was called “Gladiator School.” Jackson Clarion Ledger

America’s Crusade Against Its Public School Children. A specter is haunting America – the privatization of its public schools, and Big Money has entered into an unholy alliance to aid and abet it. Multi-billionaire philanthropists, newspaper moguls, governors, legislators, private investors, hedge fund managers, testing and computer companies are making common cause to hasten the destruction of public schools. Huffington Post

How to spot a fake ‘grassroots’ education reform group. One problem with today’s education reform environment is that a number of groups exist that call themselves “grassroots” organizations, but which have expanded rapidly because of large infusions of cash from corporations and foundations invested in pushing charter schools, mass high stakes testing, data mining students and the Common Core standards. These groups do not exist to represent the organically derived priorities and shared interests of students, teachers and parents; they exist to put a more credible face on the priorities and shared interests of a very narrow but astonishingly influential set of repeating characters. Washington Post (blog)

October 10, 2014

News

IL: Chicago Toll Road Gets Go-Ahead From Regional Transportation Group. A regional transportation body voted Thursday to move forward on a $1.5 billion public-private toll-road project outside Chicago, a day after a different group of local officials tried to kill it. The approval comes as private groups are wading back into highway projects with a new business model following a string of toll-road deals that ended in bankruptcy. The Illiana Expressway has long been discussed here as a way to improve travel south of Chicago and help speed up interstate trucking. The toll road, opposed by some local officials and environmental groups, has the backing of the governors of Illinois and Indiana and is expected to receive final approval from federal officials in the coming months. Wall Street Journal

DC: Really? DC charter school employees to get admissions preference for their kids.. . . Charter schools, it is worth remembering, are public schools, at least in the sense that they are funded with public dollars (though some get private donations). They are permitted to operate outside the traditional school system, and do not have to be as transparent about their operations as traditional schools. Families who want to send children to charter schools apply, and when there are more applications than seats, a lottery is instituted. Supposedly students are randomly drawn, except for those who have received preferences in the past. But giving a break to founding board members’ children isn’t enough for the D.C. Council. Now members voted to give a preference to the children of charter school employees who work full time and are D.C. residents. Charter school leaders and teachers lobbied the council earlier in the year for such a measure and were rewarded for their efforts in the 2015 Budget Support Act. Washington Post (blog)

The Price of Privatizing War. . . No matter what you think about “for-profit killing and the commodification of conflict,” McFate makes a strong case that demand for PMCs will expand in the decades and, perhaps, centuries ahead. The privatization of war is a growth business. . . . The Modern Mercenary is filled with fascinating stuff, and its bottom line is that there is no stopping the continuing development of the market for force. So, what—if anything—should be done? McFate says we have to regulate the industry while the free market for its services is still dominated by the demand from a few big customers, mainly the U.S. If we don’t, he warns, the profit motive could cause PMCs to perpetuate armed conflict. And then, we might really get a look at what the world was like in the Middle Ages. strategy+business (blog)

October 9, 2014

News

This Is What Happens When Republicans Try to Destroy Public Education. A month out from the midterm elections, Republican candidates around the country are confronting a shared, and significant, vulnerability: education. The conservative wave of 2010 allowed Republicans to implement slash-and-burn governance in several states—what Kansas Governor Sam Brownback called a “real live experiment” in tax cuts for corporate interests and cuts to services for everyone else. One of the most devastating casualties was public schools and universities. Now, several Republicans could fall victim to their own experiment. . . . “I’ve never seen this level of anger about what policymakers have done in some places to our schools,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. Weingarten thinks it’s not only underfunding that’s made education a top-tier issue but also the effect of efforts to privatize public education. “The market-based reforms, the top-down reforms, the testing and sanctioning as opposed to supporting and improving has taken hold so much and has been so wrong-headed that you’re seeing this fight back,” she said. The Nation

IL: Move to kill Illiana toll road project falls short. An effort by members of the Chicago region’s main planning board to kill the controversial Illiana toll road fell short this morning. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning board needed a 12-vote supermajority of its 15 members to remove the Illiana from its comprehensive plan, but opponents of the project could only muster 10 votes. The spotlight will now fall on members of a companion agency, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, who will meet on the same issue Thursday. The Policy Committee gave its support to the Illiana last year, and some experts did not expect that outcome to change Thursday. . . . Opponents had hoped to halt the effort to build the 50-mile, four-lane highway across southern Will County that would link Interstate 55 with I-57 and I-65. Chicago Tribune

IL: Chicago Public Schools Under Fire Over Dirty Conditions, Rotten Food. . . Recent money-saving moves to privatize management of custodial and cafeteria services have drawn the ire of parents and faculty, who have alleged schools are dirtier — and school lunches are worse — than ever. A teacher at a high school on the city’s Southwest Side, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from the district, described where he’s taught for the past eight years as “gross and disgusting.” “We’re running out of toilet paper,” he said. “I’m seeing more bugs than ever before. There’s overflowing trash that sits for days and weeks in some cases.”. . . “It’s gross and disgusting and my health is being affected,” he said. “I want to be outside the minute I’m in here. It smells. Everything smells and I can’t focus. If I can’t focus to teach, how can kids focus to learn?” The complaints follow the school district’s hiring of Philadelphia-based Aramark in February to supervise and train school custodians. Aramark in the spring pulled many custodians from their longtime schools and assigned them to a floating pool of janitors. This led to fewer permanent custodians in schools, and talk of layoffs. Huffington Post

IN: Going private keeps taking its toll. . . The money from the Indiana Toll Road lease is gone, and now the foreign consortium running it has declared bankruptcy, ominously struggling against low use combined with raised tolls and much-criticized service. The spectacular failure of IBM’s takeover of welfare eligibility determination, a fiasco that wrought untold suffering upon the poor, disabled and elderly, has the state before the Indiana Supreme Court trying to scratch back tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. Could you please tell us again, Mitch Daniels and Grover Norquist and the rest of you libertarian luminaries, how privatization of basic government functions beats letting the government handle the work and control the revenue stream? NUVO Newsweekly

NY: 17 New Charter Schools Approved for New York City. The state approved 17 new charter schools for New York City on Wednesday, substantially increasing the size of one of the city’s largest and most polarizing charter networks, Success Academy, and setting up a battle over where the schools will be located.. . . . While the state approves the creation of these institutions, it is up to New York City to decide where to put them. Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an enthusiastic supporter of charters, eagerly offered free space to charter schools inside public school buildings, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has strongly indicated that his administration would take a different approach. A new state law championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo forces the city to give new charter schools free space or to help pay their rent in private space, but if a deal cannot be reached, the issue could go to court. New York Times

KS: Critics of Kansas’ Medicaid Privatization Program Call for Investigation. Amid reports of possible corruption and complaints of long waits for benefits have come calls for an investigation into the Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R). KanCare was 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.. . . However, over the past year and a half, all three companies lost money. In 2013 the three companies lost a total of $110 million, and in the first half of this year the companies lost another $72.6 million. Opponents of the program are now growing concerned that if any of the three companies were to withdraw from KanCare, it could cause a significant disruption in service. Delays in reimbursement payments to health-care providers have also been reported. RH Reality Check