April 28, 2015

News

Is the Tide Turning Against Water Privatization?. . . With the relentless drive to marketize a critical natural resource, water privatization has alienated both labor and consumers in rich and poor countries alike. And this is precisely why the remuncipalization trend has been led by richer cities. For example, as Veolia’s contracts have collapsed across the United States, where rate hikes and sewage spills have tainted municipal relationships, the chief brand in corporate water has seen its profits dwindle in recent years. The Nation

The Great Charter School Debate: How Many Is Enough? As charters become a permanent feature of the educational landscape, a series of debates are taking shape over their role in our educational portfolio and, in some places, the rules under which they operate. Should charters replace entire school districts? Are they best suited to coexist alongside public schools? How many is enough? And is it fair to consider them, as charter advocates have long insisted, true public schools? U.S. News & World Report

For-profit Corinthian Colleges to close last campuses. Corinthian Colleges Inc., the for-profit college company that collapsed in June 2014 amid financial and legal problems, said Monday it has ceased operating and will close its 28 remaining campuses. . . .The company faces a $29.7 million fine on its Heald College system from the U.S. Department of Education, which accuses it of misrepresenting its job placement success by hiring temp agencies to hire students for short periods after they graduated. Chicago Sun-Times

VA: Investigation: ERC past due toll fees. As a real estate agent who lives in Portsmouth, Michael Gray is always driving through the Midtown Tunnel. So, naturally he chose to set up an EZ Pass account early last year with Elizabeth River Crossings to pay tolls. Today, he wonders why he’s receiving bills when there is money in his EZ Pass account. . . . On a few occasions, Gray said he received a bill with past due charges or what ERC calls the admin fee, the cost of collecting past due tolls. The problem is, he never received a preceding bill. “You never receive the initial bill, you only receive the bill with the $25 fee.” Gray said efforts to straighten out the issue have been unsuccessful. Accounts such as his have Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright and others saying there is not enough transparency over how ERC is handling the billing process. ERC is the private contractor hired by VDOT to finance, deliver, operate and maintain the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project. 13newsnow.com

IN: Indiana Toll Road takeover expected by late May or early June. The Indiana Toll Road should have a new operator by late May or early June. That’s when the latest multi-billion dollar deal for the rights to run the roadway is expected to close. . . . Since the Toll Road is still owned by the State of Indiana, the Oversight Commission was established to protect the asset on behalf of Hoosier taxpayers. The Commission met today in Granger, for what was likely the ‘last’ meeting with the Toll Road’s current operator, (ITR Concession Company). WNDU-TV

MA: Baker’s T “Control Board” Challenged. Three weeks after a special commission appointed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker unveiled recommendations for fixing Boston’s MBTA, Monday the panel members got a grilling from members of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. The Baker panel, formed after a winter of disaster on the transit system 1 million riders a day count on, included as one of its boldest recommendations a takeover of the T by a “fiscal and management control board” with sweeping new powers to cut costs, privatize services, and renegotiate labor expenses. But now that Baker has forced out six members of the existing Massachusetts Department of Transportation board that had overseen the T, and will get to name replacements by May 15, legislators seem to have major doubts they need to create what some called a whole new bureaucracy to oversee the T. NECN

 

April 27, 2015

News

Senate Dems seek higher wages for cafeteria workers, sources say. Some senators who learned about a Senate cafeteria worker who is forced to sleep out in the street because his wage is so low will try to get him and his coworkers a pay increase, Democratic sources told CNN late Friday. The senators began making the plans after reading a CNN.com article about the plight of Charles Gladden, a 63-year-old grandfather making $360 a week who sleeps on a makeshift bed on a sidewalk next to D.C.’s McPherson Square Metro Station. After the Senate voted to privatize its restaurants and cafeteria in 2008, it bid out the contracts to the lowest bidder, possibly decreasing salaries for people like Gladden, the sources said. Bayoubuzz

‘New rebels’ seek control of federal land. A growing movement to transfer federal land to state control in Western states, where the federal government is a big landowner, is drawing comparisons to the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and running into strong resistance from conservation and sportsmen groups. At issue is who should control some 300 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in the West. USA TODAY

The military retirement system may need reform, but is privatization the best way? The current military pension system, in which you get a generous pension after 20 years of service but have no retirement plan if you serve 19 years, could use an overhaul. That doesn’t mean that dumping the military into the kind of privatized, vulnerable to stock market crashes, 401(k) system that has so many Americans headed for poverty-stricken retirement is a good idea, but it’s what the House Armed Services Committee is considering. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has also praised the idea. Daily Kos

Turning a Children’s Rating System Into an Advocacy Army. . . The group’s growing political influence also underscores the increasing privatization of American public education — and the complicated financial interrelationships that are developing as education technology proliferates. Common Sense Media earned about $6 million last year through the licensing fees it charges companies — including Amplify, AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Discovery Education and Time Warner Cable — that distribute its reviews and ratings. It has also received support from a number of foundations set up by technology executives and telecommunications firms. If Mr. Steyer’s efforts to increase government financing for education-related technologies succeed, some of these entities, or their benefactors’ companies, stand to benefit. New York Times

TX: Despite Controls, Texas Contracts Plagued with Scandal. A renewed effort to evaluate Texas contracting oversight could end up illustrating an uncomfortable reality. . . Even the strictest of safeguards will not work if not taken seriously by agency officials. . .. Part of the problem, the experts say, lies with state officials who have ignored the rules or exploited loopholes. . .. Another illustration that has gotten far less attention concerns a little-known section of the Texas Government Code that requires the health commission to give the attorney general a chance to review plans to outsource health services worth $250 million or more. Records suggest a meaningful review never has been conducted. The commission has failed to provide any notification of several plans. . .Several other deals also have come under scrutiny, including a botched state hospital privatization, a telephone deal with AT&T that grew from $1 million to $105 million, and a Medicaid claims processing deal awarded on an “emergency basis” that could last five years and cost $965 million. Government Technology

LA: Analysis: Lawmakers hear about gaps in LSU hospital deals. Two years after Gov. Bobby Jindal began privatizing the state-run charity hospital system, problems and financial questions continue to appear as lawmakers and communities sift through the spill-out effect. The private managers that now operate the hospitals say they’re $159 million short in Jindal’s budget of what they need to provide adequate care for the poor and uninsured in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Monroe News Star

DC: DC Toll Operators Are Scamming, Drivers Say. The operators of toll roads in the D.C. metro area assess illegal penalties against drivers over misfiring E-Z passes, a federal class action says. Jo-Ann Brown and Mary Pizarro, both of Virginia, filed the complaint Wednesday along with Maryland resident Michele Osborne against the corporations that operate the 95 Express Lanes and 495 Express Lanes, high-occupancy toll lanes that commuters use to avoid traffic congestion along the Capital Beltway. Claiming that the express lanes have not been as financially successful as projected, the women say that Transurban USA and others are attempting to buoy profits by maliciously charging excessive fees when commuters miss payments. Courthouse News

VA: Can a tolling and transit deal fix I-66 after decades of failure?. . . Layne said he believes that the broad framework of a deal has been struck: I-66 would be converted to a toll road inside the Capital Beltway, with carpoolers riding free. The tolls — tens of millions worth — would be channeled to just the types of Metro, bus, bike and pedestrian improvements that county officials have long argued are the best way to move growing numbers of people. . . . Virginia is in early discussions with the federal government, which regulates the tolling of existing highways and would need to sign off on any plan. . . . “If there’s not local support, I don’t care what the reasons are — the road’s not going to be successful,” Layne said. Washington Post

IL: How exactly is privatization better, Mr. Governor?. . . His summary of the bill chartering a private economic development group notes that Illinois trails states with such organizations in job growth and investment. Rauner thereby implies that privatizing economic development explains the performance gap. That’s quite a leap. After all, states with such organizations often offer other things employers like, such as low wage rates, low taxes and tighter limits on labor unions. When I asked Rauner’s media office about the plan, I got a statement echoing the bill summary.   Crain’s Chicago Business

GA: Opinion: Why competitive model fails schools. No one should lose in education. . . Regardless of the “miracles” claimed by proponents of competition and privatization efforts, it seems as though the dirty – and much more complex – truth comes out at some point. The Texas Miracle used to design No Child Left Behind was a case of cooking the books; the Atlanta Miracle included systemic cheating to save jobs and schools from being closed and educators are now sentenced to serve time behind bars; the New Orleans Miracle continues to be an embarrassment with the retraction of research reports indicating success and criticisms about bad data; and in 2013 there was confirmed test cheating in 37 states and Washington D.C., but surely it is more widespread than that given the high-stakes of the very tests that have been criticized for their bias, invalidity, very high cost, and damaging effects on what schooling has become. Not everything is a competition, not everything should be designed as a competition, and education – especially – should not be treated as a competition where there are guaranteed winners and losers. No one should lose in education. Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)

IA: Senate President Raises Concerns Over Privatizing Medicaid. Governor Terry Branstad’s plan to privatize parts of the state’s Medicaid system is moving forward. Medicaid is the healthcare program for low income Iowans; that represents $4.2 billion in state and federal spending. The Department of Human Services estimates privatization will save about 50-million-dollars in the first six months. The Branstad administration says savings will come from avoiding duplication of services and offering better preventative care. But Senate President Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, has concerns. “First of all I don’t think the plan was very well thought out yet, (it was) too much too fast,” Jochum says. “I think all of us have been trying to do a lot of research ever since his plan was unveiled on what’s happened in other states that have attempted to do this.” Iowa Public Radio

HI: Gov. Ige: Not So Fast on Allowing Privatization of Maui Hospitals. In an unusual move, Gov. David Ige has intervened in a controversial proposal that would pave the way for the privatization of Maui Memorial Medical Center, which lost more than $43 million last year. The House was prepared to agree with the latest Senate draft of House Bill 1075, which creates a framework for transitioning Maui hospitals to nonprofit management. But Ige said Tuesday he had concerns about the proposal, and requested a meeting with House Speaker Joseph Souki from Maui, who sponsored the measure. Honolulu Civil Beat

April 23, 2015

News

Union Warns Against Privatizing Grain Inspection. . . Currently, federal civilian employees with the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) are responsible for inspecting grain. J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), is urging congress to keep it that way and resists any attempt to privatize grain inspections as they consider reauthorizing the Grain Standards Act “Privatization of FGIS would undermine America’s guarantee of impartial and honest, government-backed trading which is relied upon by world buyers,” Cox testified before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management. During the hearing, Cox said that privatization would be a step backwards to a time when private industry almost ruined the grain market. Daily Caller

Public lands vital to local economies. Some lawmakers are pushing for the privatization of federal lands: a recent budgetary amendment would allow states to sell national forest land. But what many policymakers don’t realize is that public lands aren’t just beautiful places to visit or environmental havens—they are vital to local economies and small businesses across the country. While we recognize our great outdoors during National Parks Week, let’s take a look at the role these lands play in the success of small businesses and our economy. Small Business Majority just released an economic report that shows America’s public lands strengthen economies and job markets in the West, drawing in tourists and new residents alike that boost the economy and local businesses. Public lands are critical to local economies because they promote outdoor recreational activities that generate more than $255 billion in revenue and contribute to a vast 2.3 million jobs. The Hill (blog)

WI: Gov. Scott Walker’s War on the University of Wisconsin. . . Scott Walker is at the forefront of another legislative war in Wisconsin. The center of the debate this time: his 2015-2017 executive budget plan. The plan calls for a number of controversial ideas; it removes state funding from the Wisconsin State Parks system, expands state vouchers for private schools (through the use of taxpayer money) while also cutting $150 per student in aid to public schools and implements drug screening for those receiving unemployment benefits and food stamps, just to name a few of the measures. By far the most damning for the state, however, is what the budget has in store for the University of Wisconsin System. The new budget also repeals the state law that establishes tenure for professors and instead leaves it up to the University system’s Board of Regents–16 out of 18 of whom are appointed by the Governor–to decide if it is to be reinstated. That’s bad enough by itself, but the core of the budget battle rests on a proposal that calls for building a new, $200 million stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks while simultaneously cutting $300 million from the University system–13 percent of its state-supported budget–in one year, with tuition freezes in place. . . .In short, the budget creates a massive brain drain on one of the most prestigious state schools in America, all under the guise of giving the system “more autonomy”–also known as an attempt to pseudo-privatize another public system.   Huffington Post

MA: Baker plans to use privatization law for mental health. . . . Under the plan, which seeks to save $4.7 million on the treatment of mental illness, the Baker administration would need to convince the state auditor that its plan to privatize emergency mental health services in southeastern Massachusetts will save money without diminishing services. Sentinel & Enterprise

AL: State Auditor says Alabama should privatize state audits. State Auditor Jim Zeigler said the state should eliminate the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts and use its $13 million appropriation to fund state parks. Zeigler told Tuscaloosa Rotarians on Tuesday that his proposal would keep state parks open without raising taxes. Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein said last week that 15 parks could close within the next year, beginning May 1, because of state general fund budget cuts. . . , Zeigler said state agencies should hire private accounting firms and pay for their own audits out of their department funds. Tuscaloosa News ($)

NY: NY teachers union launches $1 million ad campaign slamming Cuomo’s education policies. New York State United Teachers, the state’s powerful teachers union, is hitting the airwaves to criticize Gov. Andrew Cuomo education policies. The labor group launched a $1 million television ad campaign Wednesday accusing Cuomo of supporting classroom privatization, high-stakes testing and using money intended for public schools to give tax breaks to wealthy individuals. Auburn Citizen (blog)

MD: Outsourcing under fire. Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner says that relying on private contractors as opposed to county resources isn’t always the best choice for local government. . . .Gardner noted some fairly substantial annual savings the county can take advantage of by performing certain tasks itself instead of farming them out to private contractors: Removing deer carcasses from roadsides — $20,000; repairing culverts and handing routine bridge maintenance — $360,000; controlling weeds and trimming trees — $31,000 and $65,000, respectively; maintaining heating and air conditioning — $100,000. If Gardner’s figures are correct, county workers performing those jobs as opposed to private contractors could save a significant piece of change for taxpayers.    Frederick News Post ($)

VA: Opinion: Should Virginia tap the brakes on plans for I-66 HOT lanes?. . . . In theory, road users who are willing and able would accept that fee for reduced travel time. In doing so, the general-purpose lanes would become less congested. Although HOT lanes thus have the potential to benefit all road users, the benefits are often skewed to those with higher incomes. . . . For consumers representing the lowest 20 percent of income earners, “transportation costs account for approximately 32 percent of their after-tax income,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation “Beyond Traffic” study. . . Nevertheless, we’re faced with a Catch-22. On the one hand, proponents of HOV lanes can argue that representatives of all income brackets have it in their means to use those lanes. On the other hand, proponents of HOT lanes can argue that the money raised by those lanes benefits the very infrastructure on which commuters rely — especially those commuters who cannot afford to live within city limits. Washington Post

Privatizing Public Services – opinion. . . Probably the greatest achievement of the conservative movement — and perhaps the biggest blow to the efficacy of self-rule — has been the movement’s sweeping success in impacting the thinking of the American public. This achievement has led unwary citizens to elect champions of the elite and acquiesce in the passage of conservative programs like reduced taxes for the rich, deregulation, privatization of public-supported functions, and the need to reduce funding of human investments, this at all levels of government. Nolan Chart LLC

April 22, 2015

News

Momentum picks up for privatization of the sky. This week, the Federal Aviation Administration took another step down Privatization Road when it stopped printing the navigation charts used by aviators. They’ll now be printed — for those people who depend on paper — by a private company, instead. It’s not the first time the FAA turned over part of its functions to a corporation. A few years ago, all the “flight service stations” — there’s one in Princeton, Minn. — which provide weather and other services to pilots, were sold off to the Lockheed Corp. with mixed results. Today, NPR broaches the next step in privatization: turning the entire air traffic control system over to a private company to run. Minnesota Public Radio News (blog)

Rachel Maddow Blows Lid Off Republican Scheme to Privatize the VA. Despite the administrative issues plaguing the VA, Maddow reveals that the agency’s care is rated consistently better than that given in the private sector, and that the Koch brothers specifically engineered the campaign to slander and abolish the VA as a “new line of defense against socialized medicine.” While nobody believes the VA is perfect, the idea of turning the care for our veterans into yet another way for corporations to extort money out of the very people who risked their lives defending their “freedom” to make billion dollar profits and purchase our political system. Occupy Democrats

IL: Bill would privatize Illinois economic development agency. A bill to partially privatize the state’s economic development agency has surfaced abruptly in Springfield, and it may be on a fast track to passage. . . . Rauner would get to establish a private Illinois Business & Economic Development Corp. that would pick up many of the key functions of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, a state government agency. For instance, the corporation would have the power to negotiate tax incentive deals with companies, subject to final approval by DCEO. The idea is similar to proposals Rauner made during his race for governor. Chicago Business

IL: Federal Judge Finds No Injury From Redflex Bribery. Motorists in Chicago, Illinois cannot cite the federal bribery charges against top Redflex officials as a way to get out of paying a red light camera ticket. US District Court Judge Amy J. St. Eve came to that tentative conclusion earlier this month after Matthew G. Falkner challenged the automated ticket he received in the mail based on a photograph of his Infiniti taken on January 19, 2013. Falkner argued that paying the fine would reward the illegal activities of Redflex. TheNewspaper.com

TX: Poll finds support for toll road within levees is tepid. “This poll clearly shows that Dallas voters are now decisively rejecting the Trinity toll road,” said Angela Hunt, a former City Council member who led the failed 2007 referendum to reduce the size of the project now going forward. Dallas Morning News

MO: Missouri lawmaker proposes I-70 toll to maintain highways. A Missouri lawmaker has proposed that the state partner with a private company to make Interstate 70 a toll road. . . . A dip in transportation funding will mean only about a quarter of the state’s roads and bridges will be fully maintained. . . Schaaf’s bill needs committee approval before it can be debated by the full Senate. mySanAntonio.com

 

 

 

April 21, 2015

News

Air-traffic control union chief: Privatization possible, but funding crucial. The union chief for air-traffic controllers said Monday he would negotiate with lawmakers and the aviation industry over whether to turn the system over to a private company, as it is in Canada, rather than insisting it remain a government function. But Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told the Aero Club of Washington he would oppose any effort to make air-traffic control a profit-making corporation. And he said stable funding is more important than organizational reform because funding disputes delay improvements. USA TODAY

Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota. In 2009 . . .Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV} inserted the following language regarding Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention budget: “…funding made available under this heading shall maintain a level of not less than 33,400 detention beds.” This directive established what would become a controversial policy interpreted by ICE as a mandate to contract for and fill 33,400 detention beds on a daily basis. The directive would come to be known as the “immigrant detention quota” or “bed mandate.”. . . This report provides an in-depth assessment of the inception and implementation of the quota, with a specific focus on the role played by for-profit, private prison corporations. These companies have profited handsomely from the artificial stability provided by the quota while contributing millions of dollars in federal lobbying expenditures and in campaign contributions to ensure their interests are met. This report also features testimony from people directly impacted by detention and deportation, revealing the momentous human cost of the quota. Grassroots Leadership

Sign the petition: America’s public lands are NOT for sale. Republicans are using Congress’ annual budget process to lay the groundwork for turning America’s public lands over to state control for sale to private mining, drilling and real estate companies. Hundreds of millions of acres of pristine public lands in the American West that are the cradle of future national parks, monuments, and preserves would instead be sacrificed to dirty oil drilling and fracking companies. . . . Sign the petition from CREDO and Daily Kos to Congress: America’s public lands are NOT for sale. Daily Kos

NJ: Quigley: Privatizing the lottery was a bad gamble. New Jersey Lottery revenue was growing every year, with the biggest growth occurring in 2013, when the amount jumped by more than 14 percent to top a billion dollars. So whose bright idea was it to listen to the pitch of the people who were losing money in other states and suggesting we privatize one of the state’s biggest income sources? . . . So promises were given, contracts were signed, and lots of Lottery Commission workers were laid off. Northstar formally took over in October 2013. It hired even more lobbyists and a public relations firm closely connected to the governor and began operations here. . .So what happened then? Pfffft. Northstar missed projections by $64 million so far. Only four months after the contract was signed, Northstar was allowed to amend its promises and lower revenue projections. NJ.com

VA: Fight brews over proposal to add tolls for I-66’s morning, evening rush hours. A plan to turn Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway into a toll road during morning and evening rush hours has opened up sharp divisions between Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration and a bipartisan group of congressional representatives and raised broader questions about how to solve one of the region’s most persistent and infuriating bottlenecks. . . .Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said he was taken aback by the tone and substance of a briefing by Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey L. Layne Jr. and other officials earlier this week on Capitol Hill. Connolly said that the briefing had an air of finality to it that seemed to indicate VDOT was barreling ahead with plans for a toll road even though that had not been sufficiently debated. . . . “It cannot be a fait accompli,” Connolly said. “I’ve worked with Democrats and Republicans in Richmond for more than 20 years and . . . I have never seen as little communication and outreach as I have with this one.” Washington Post

CO: U.S. 36 tolls topic of public meeting Tuesday. Proposed toll rates along U.S. 36 between Boulder and Denver will be one of the topics at an open house and public meeting Tuesday. The private firm working with the Colorado Department of Transportation for the nearly $500 million widening of U.S. 36 — Plenary Roads Denver — plans to charge tolls for a portion of the highway. The first phase of the U.S. 36 Express Lanes, from Federal Boulevard to 88th Street, will open this summer. The Denver Post

IN: Editorial: DNR violates the public trust with Dunes State Park conference center. Earlier this year the Indiana Department of Natural Resources revealed it was on the verge of allowing construction of a private conference center at the Dunes State Park beach. The conference center would be privately developed on public land under a lease lasting up to 65 years. Hoosier taxpayers were first introduced to this philosophy by former governor Mitch Daniels, who leased the Indiana Toll Road to a private firm. That lease was rightly criticized for selling the birthright of Indiana’s children in exchange for a slush fund to enhance Daniel’s reputation and fund I-69 in southern Indiana. The DNR plan for the Indiana Dunes, like the Toll Road lease, will lock up a public asset for generations. Unlike the Toll Road lease, the public will get little in the way of financial benefit in return with the guaranteed rental payments amounting to little more than the rent on a typical Hoosier home. Chesterton Tribune

OH: Jail privatization provision struck from Ohio House budget. The Ohio House Finance Committee is striking a provision from the state budget that would have allowed for privatization of county jails. . . County sheriffs raised concerns that the move could add confusion to duties held by law enforcement and risk public safety, while not saving money. FOX19

April 20, 2015

News

Our public water future – closing out the corporate profiteers.  Private water companies have never been more aggressive in their sabotaging of efforts to ‘make water public’, writes Satoko Kishimoto, with legal threats and challenges launched under ‘free trade’ agreements. But as citizens worldwide reject corporate water profiteering, the trend of water re-municipalisation has gathered unstoppable momentum. The Ecologist

GOP files bill to privatize air traffic control. A Republican House member has filed a bill that would privatize some facets of the nation’s air traffic control as the Federal Aviation Administration struggles to meet deadlines to upgrade the system. The measure would create a new private corporation that would oversee air traffic control functions that are currently handled by the FAA. The legislation’s sponsor, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), said the measure would drastically improve the efficiency of air traffic control in the U.S. The Hill

VA: Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Toll Road Abuse. Motorists hit by massive fines on Virginia’s toll roads filed suit in federal court Wednesday against the Australian company responsible for collecting the levies. Mary Elise Pizarro, a driver from Alexandria, accuses Transurban of imposing $9440 in fines when her E-Z Pass transponder failed to register $20 in tolls on the Interstate 495 high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, due to no fault of her own. “Transurban has filed thousands of lawsuits against DC area drivers in the past year alone seeking to collect exorbitant and illegal administrative fees and civil penalties,” attorney James Pizzirusso said in a statement. The suit alleges that the imposition of fines is intentionally excessive to make up for a shortfall in revenue. The Beltway HOT lanes have flopped, losing $51 million in 2013. Last year, Transurban generated additional cash by filing 26,000 lawsuits for unpaid tolls, some of which were caused by the failure of Transurban’s own equipment. TheNewspaper.com

LA: Privatization deals leave schools stuck with ‘legacy costs’. LSU’s medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport are struggling to pay millions of dollars in insurance, retiree and maintenance costs left to them from the privatization of the state’s charity hospitals. University officials outlined more than $56 million in “legacy costs” that they face in the fiscal year that begins July 1. . . LSU health care chief Frank Opelka said if no money is provided to cover those costs, they will threaten the medical schools’ viability. Alexandria Town Talk

TX: Failed Hospital Deal Reveals Ties to Janek. Three years ago, a company called Geo Care Inc. failed to win a contract from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to privatize the Kerrville State Hospital, one of the state’s 10 psychiatric facilities. So the company’s lobbyist, Frank Santos, circled back and provided HHSC Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek with a blueprint for how the agency could successfully privatize other state hospitals — maybe Austin, Kerrville, San Antonio and Rusk — which would then allow Santos’ client to bid for the work. . . . Fourteen months later, Geo Care, which changed its name to Correct Care Solutions, won a contract to privatize the Terrell State Hospital. It was the only bidder to submit a complete application. The emailed communications between Santos and Janek, as well as phone calls and meetings, appear to break no laws. In fact, the state’s own statutes allow vendors to approach government agencies with “public-private partnership” ideas. MyHighPlains

FL: Private prison vendors could face new scrutiny in Florida. Florida legislative leaders last week tentatively agreed to the creation of a joint legislative oversight board with the power to investigate and monitor the performance of Florida’s troubled Department of Corrections. Its goal is to secure the safety of inmates in the face of mounting reports of suspicious inmate deaths, excessive use of force and allegations of cover-ups at the agency. . . .But the legislative panel could also open the door to an evaluation of the recent shift in priorities that has led the state to open seven private prisons, contract out services for 21 inmate work camps, and shift mental health care and substance abuse treatment and inmate health care to private vendors. . . The call to action was prompted by a series of reports in the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times that showed suspicious inmate deaths were covered up or never reviewed, inmate grievances and complaints of harmful medical care were dismissed or ignored, and internal controls were inconsistent. Tampabay.com

NC: Commentary: Follow the money: a primer on how outside $$$ have paved the way for vouchers & charters in NC. . . Those funds have resulted in the removal of the cap on charter schools and a new voucher program that takes money away from the public school system in order to fund unregulated and unaccountable private education in the name of school choice. To connect the dots between the national players in school privatization efforts and local lawmakers that have pushed for the expansion of charters and vouchers, the Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) published an essay and infographic Friday that details how Reps. Stam, Yarborough, Jones and others have benefited from the privatizers’ offerings and the resulting legislation they are seeking to enact. The Progressive Pulse

CA: Privatized busing comes to San Francisco – opinion. . . A booming tech industry has brought thousands of new residents to San Francisco, all needing a way to get to work. Public transit infrastructure is operating over capacity. While city agencies scramble to meet rising demand, private companies are stepping in with market-based solutions for top-tier customers. The result is something more insidious than just a private bus for those who can afford it: the idea that infrastructure traditionally subsidized by public money for the public good now can, should and will be a private moneymaker. Al Jazeera America

MA: Senate leaders skeptical of plan to allow more MBTA privatization. Senate leaders are skeptical of a House plan that would open the door to more privatization of services at the beleaguered MBTA. The House has called for a suspension of the so-called Pacheco law, which creates obstacles to outsourcing, for five years for the T. Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, in comments to reporters Thursday afternoon, said the Pacheco law has become a “political target” over the years. Boston Globe ($)

IA: Iowa’s Medicaid privatization draws scrutiny. Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to privatize the state’s Medicaid program is moving forward, though critics are raising questions about how the shift will impact patients. Earlier this year, the state began an effort to shift Medicaid administration to two or more managed care organizations, to which Iowa will pay a fixed amount per enrollee to provide health coverage. State officials predict cost savings and say patients will still have access to quality health care. But Democratic Senate President Pam Jochum, of Dubuque, said this week that she is not convinced, raising concerns about the quality of care for patients. KTTC

IL: The criminalization of public education. . . Corporate education reform came barreling on to the scene after the Reagan-era Chicken Little report, A Nation At Risk. We were told our students scored terribly on tests, our schools were failing, our teachers were lazy, our unions locked terrible teachers in place forever, and our nation would soon collapse if that perilous status quo wasn’t destroyed. So lots and lots of things were done, and have been done for 30 years now. The fixes that have been applied ever since that report have been drawn from the world of business, along with the language about schools and curriculum. We have CEOs running our school systems and investors who are waiting for returns on their investments. ChicagoNow (blog)

MT: House OKs tax credits for public, private school donations. Republican representatives have advanced a proposal to provide tax credits for anyone who donates to certain educational programs, both public and private. Representatives voted 57-43 to pass Republican Sen. Llew Jones’ Senate Bill 410 on second reading Thursday. It would go to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock if it passes a final vote in the House. The proposal would provide income-tax credits in the full amount, up to $150, of donations made to scholarships for private K-12 education or “innovative educational programs” at public schools. Great Falls Tribune

April 16, 2015

News

Blood money, killer cops: How privatization is funding the racist logic of America’s police. . . In both New York City and Tulsa, private funding of law enforcement significantly impacts the way local policing is done. In Tulsa, it results in the pay-to-play scheme. In New York City, it allows for large infusions of cash donations whose specific uses do not come under public scrutiny because they are private funds. These forms of neoliberal policing — in which private citizens and private monies impact the culture of policing but escape governmental checks and balances — endanger us all. Salon

Harvard professor reveals why America’s infrastructure is so awful, who is to blame, and how we can finally fix it. Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written a new book about this. It’s called “Move.”. . . America’s lousy infrastructure is hurting our economy and all Americans. Unless we want growth to stagnate, we need to fix it. Lots of people are to blame: Washington politicians, local politicians, Americans who elect those politicians, a collective delusion that American exceptionalism means we don’t have to invest in anything, a system that places lots of power in the hands of states that have little incentive to cooperate with one another. The GOP fantasy that everything can be privatized is nuts. You can’t privatize airports, roads, bridges, and rail lines. We can’t leave everything to the states, either. Infrastructure crosses state lines. Business Insider

NC: White parents in North Carolina are using charter schools to secede from the education system. . .Setting aside the drama between charters and teachers unions, or complaints that charter schools lead to the privatization of public education, there has been the persistent critique that charters increase inequality by plucking advantaged students out of traditional public schools. The most recent cautionary tale comes from North Carolina, where professors at Duke have traced a troubling trend of resegregation since the first charters opened in 1997. They contend that North Carolina’s charter schools have become a way for white parents to secede from the public school system, as they once did to escape racial integration orders. Washington Post (blog)

VT: After $282M, VDOT to terminate new Rt. 460 contract. Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne says the state has given notice that it intends to terminate its contract to build a new toll road next to U.S. 460 in southeastern Virginia. The state and private bondholders have already spent about $282 million on the project, with no construction having yet started. Layne said Wednesday the state wants an unspecified amount of money back from the contractor, US 460 Mobility Partners. Work on the project was stopped by Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration about a year ago after it became clear the road might not get the permits it needed.   13newsnow.com

April 15, 2015

News

The mirage of public-private water. The reality is the partnership of a city and a company in delivering the right to water always holds the tension of conflict because the mission of a government and company are completely different. Open Democracy

A Life Sentence for a Blackwater Murder. . . We have, it is often said, the best and most well-trained military in the world. But we sent it into Iraq for reasons that proved false, and then swerved toward reliance on a fake army of mistrained mercenaries. The government acted as though Blackwater, in particular, was sophisticated and efficient—privatization at its best—even as its careless violence helped to dismantle America’s reputation in Iraq. The New Yorker

Time for a moratorium on charter schools – opinion. Charter schools are everywhere. Not long ago, these publicly funded but privately run institutions were a relative rarity. Those that existed served mostly as experimental academies whose successful lessons could be applied elsewhere in their host school districts. But in the last 15 years, swaths of the U.S. public education system have been turned over to charters. In fact, they are being used as a means to crush teachers’ unions and to pursue high-stakes testing. Al Jazeera America

Editorial: Cost of aging. . . Yes, these “entitlement programs” are expensive to maintain and sometimes attacked by conservatives who have no memory of the Great Depression and its soup lines and families constantly on the move with no permanent homes. Talking about “privatization” of such programs is the worst alternative of all. One stock market crash, and millions of people would be wiped out. Rather, there needs to be a national push, a task force, a joint effort from Congress and leaders of the private sector, to address the issue of long-term care as Medicare and Social Security were created long ago. It can be done. Because it has been done. News & Observer

IN: Enviro groups want feds to reverse Illiana approval. Environmental groups have written to the Federal Highway Administration asking the agency to rescind its December 2014 approval for the Illiana Expressway. The groups claim new developments and revelations, including Gov. Bruce Rauner’s refusal to offer any statement of support, undercuts previous rationales for the road. nwitimes.com

CO: Senate Republicans pursue land grab farce. An ill-advised measure to exert state control over federal public lands in Colorado has conservation advocates hopping mad. It’s unlikely the bill will ever result in a seizure of any U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management acreage in the state, but the very thought of it is an affront to anyone who cherishes the unique public land legacy that’s woven into the cultural fabric of the American West. Summit County Citizens Voice

IL: Voters pushed Mayor Rahm to the left. Will he stay there?. . . That fella—call him Rahm I—was a proud neoliberal who waved the flag of privatization. One of his early budget moves was to close health clinics and privatize city operations in the name of reform, while advocating massive tax breaks for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the name of economic development. . . Meanwhile, in the last year our mayor has turned into Rahm II, moving left with the realization that his earlier policies were out of whack with the majority of Chicago voters. He’s capped the creation of new charter schools, refrained from throwing TIF money at corporations, passed a bill raising the minimum wage, stood up for the collective bargaining rights of unions, and held off on the cut-the-pensions rhetoric—though that last move is probably because he’d already promised the firefighters’ union that in exchange for their endorsement, he wouldn’t touch their pensions. Chicago Reader

CA: Library privatization meeting gets big turnout. Community activists are pushing back against a recent proposal by County Supervisors to privatize county libraries. The turnout for last night’s demonstration at Beale Memorial Library was so large, the meeting had to be moved to a bigger room. Advocates for Library Enhancement talked about the importance of libraries to our communities. They also discussed funding alternatives that would allow the library to remain public including a sales tax increase. Kern Golden Empire

April 14, 2014

News

Ex-Blackwater Guards Sentenced to Long Prison Terms in 2007 Killings of Iraqi Civilians. . . The men had been among several private American security guards who fired into Baghdad’s crowded Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007, and last October they were convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in what prosecutors called a wartime atrocity. Yet on Monday, as they awaited sentences that they knew would send them to prison for most if not all of their lives, they defiantly asserted their innocence.. . . The ruling ended a long investigation into the Nisour Square shooting, a signature, gruesome moment in the Iraq war that highlighted America’s reliance on private contractors to maintain security in combat zones. . . The Nisour Square shooting transformed Blackwater from America’s most prominent security contractor into a symbol of unchecked and privatized military power. New York Times

Hillary Clinton needs to champion public schools – editorial. . . It’s an issue that puts Clinton in a difficult position, pitting some of her big Wall Street supporters against the ”everyday Americans” whose votes she is courting. School choice lobbyists have spent enormous sums of money around the country to promote the idea that public schools have “failed” and to support privatization. But the data don’t back up their claims. National research shows that charter and voucher schools perform no better, on average, than traditional public schools. To offer a fair shot at success to all students, public schools need more resources, not punitive, test-and-punish ”reforms” or dubious school privatization schemes. Progressive.org

Why Congress Can Sell Off Our National Forests, But Not National Parks. . . The argument for such a move is masked in small government, states’ rights and good ol’ fashioned capitalism, but rather than being a logical conclusion of conservative values, it instead clashes directly with the conservation movement that was begun by the Republican party’s most famous leaders in order to protect our country’s natural beauty and environment for future citizens. And, as a result, conservative organizations like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are up in arms. “Public lands are the fabric that binds America together,” stated BHA executive director Land Tawney. “Nationally, an organized, concerted movement is underway to sell off and limit access to America’s public lands and waters. These are not merely the actions of a lunatic fringe. Now is the time to double down and fight back against this ill-conceived idea.” Indefinitely Wild

Helium Shortage Opens the Door to Alternatives. . . The U.S. is the biggest supplier of helium in the world. Disruptions in the supply of helium gas in the U.S impact the entire world. Recent disruptions are due to a number of factors: Reduction in helium production from U.S. reservoirs. The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 has not produced expected results to control the irregular prices of helium gas. The Stewardship Act of 2013 reinforced the privatization of U.S. helium reserves. Despite government efforts to privatize the helium gas supply, the situation has not improved due to slow response from private players. Laboratory Equipment

TX: Senate votes to strip private toll road company of eminent domain powers. Legislation that would bar a private toll road company in Texas from having eminent domain powers was unanimously approved by the Senate on Monday. The measure is aimed at the Texas Turnpike Corp., which claims to be exempt from a 1991 law that stripped private toll road companies of eminent domain authority in acquiring land to build toll roads. Dallas Morning News (blog)

VA: Del. Ramadan vows to keep fighting ‘highway robbery’ on Dulles Greenway. In the wake of several failed attempts to halt the rising cost of tolls on the Dulles Greenway, Virginia Del. David I. Ramadan (R-Loudoun) and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are redoubling their efforts to seek relief for motorists who use the privately owned road. Washington Post

WI: Opinion: Stop governor’s privatization of ADRCs. As Dane County Executive, I am very concerned about Governor Walker’s proposed state budget and its impact on vital county and state services. The governor’s proposal to privatize our local Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) is especially troubling. Our ADRC works and thousands of our most vulnerable citizens depend on it. Our local ADRC is a one–stop-shop that connects seniors and the disabled with critical services available to them through various federal, state and community resources. hngnews.com

 

April 13, 2015

News

TX: Texas Supreme Court Rejects Red Light Camera Arguments. Texas Supreme Court refuses to block anti-camera election in Arlington, orders disclosure of camera related accident data in Houston. Texas Supreme CourtA red light camera court case has yet to reach the highest court in Texas, but justices have recently issued a pair of orders that dealt a setback to the automated ticketing industry. Last week, the judges denied the request of attorneys for American Traffic Solution (ATS) who begged the Supreme Court to intervene in an upcoming election to prevent residents of Arlington from voting on a red light camera ban. TheNewspaper.com

IL: Citizens United: The Elephant in the Room in Rahm Emanuel’s Mayoral Reelection. . Garcia also failed to capture the public backlash against privatization. For reasons unknown, he did little to expose the racket Emanuel and private contractors are running. A company gets a contract, then pays a kickback in the form of a campaign contribution. The Chicago Tribune ran a surprisingly hard-hitting expose on this corruption. Earvin “Magic” Johnson got an $80 million custodial contract with Chicago Public Schools, then promptly donated $250,000 to the Emanuel campaign. Aramark similarly got a custodial contract with CPS, then, as reported in these pages by Rick Perlstein, immediately fired 450 workers. As a consequence, teachers and parents at several schools have had to clean up toilets because the company’s smaller work force can’t keep up with the workload. The Garcia campaign missed an opportunity to highlight this graft and corruption and tap into a growing public restiveness about privatization. In These Times

PA: District takes steps to outsource substitute teacher services. . . Now, some 1300 substitute teachers are members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and are paid according to per-diem and longer-term rates specified in the PFT contract. Daily pay can vary from $40 for an uncertified teacher to $180 for a retiree who has worked for 30 days in the school year. There are also long-term substitutes paid on a salaried basis. Workers hired by a private company may or may not be unionized, Wyatt said. Philadelphia Public School Notebook

IL: Editorial: Table talk of privatizing universities. . . Tuition at Illinois’ public universities continues to rise. Making these universities private will increase tuition costs for most students. Some state funding is better than no state funding, and taking away state funding likely will increase tuition costs. When expense is equal between Private University A in Illinois and Private University B in another state, students will make their decision based on academics and campus life. When this happens, the state runs the risk of losing students to out-of-state schools because there’s no economic advantage to staying home. . . . Finally, we’re concerned about the loss of freedom on campuses should public universities become private. Public universities have a reputation of being a free and open marketplace for ideas – from students and faculty. Becoming private will no doubt muzzle students’ voices and faculty’s ability to practice academic freedom. Unpopular opinions are tolerated at public universities. Not so much in a private setting. Northwest Herald

NJ: Letter to the editor: Revised bill and coming privatization plans. . . The Christie administration has already paid $120,000 to consultants to search for development plans as part of its dead-wrong “Sustainable Parks” goal of turning LSP into a revenue-generating “venue”. That sickening and outrageous goal ignores decades of the overwhelming public consensus for an open space park for the urban people’s quality of life and for the enjoyment of all visitors. Hudson Reporter

WI: Opinion: Privatization hurt taxpayers, reduces oversight. Wisconsin has witnessed the streamlining of government at the expense of democracy and the common good. We should be very cautious when politicians say their goal is to “shrink” government. What they really want is to remove “we the people” from the equation, relinquishing governing to the few. Appleton Post Crescent

Why Has Teacher Morale Plummeted?. . . Supported by a wide variety of “reformist” groups, which include foundations, consulting firms, charter school and voucher advocates, neoliberal think-tanks and teacher-bashing politicians of both political parties, education reforms ended up making way for privatization, charter schools or voucher systems. As a result teachers no longer control the curriculum as they should. This vacuum has been filled by a host of commercial companies that have developed products to be used both inside and outside the classroom. Newsweek