October 31, 2014

News

IN: Indiana’s high court to hear IBM welfare case. The Indiana Supreme Court is weighing legal arguments in a dispute between state officials and IBM over the company’s failed attempt to privatize Indiana’s welfare services. Four of the five justices peppered state and IBM attorneys with questions during Thursday’s oral arguments over Indiana’s cancellation of IBM’s $1.3 billion contract to automate much of the state’s welfare system. . . . IBM and Indiana sued each other after Daniels canceled the contract in 2009 following complaints about long wait times, lost documents and improper rejections. WHAS 11.com

CA: Design project to combat water privatization. This Friday, a nonprofit activist group known as The Beehive Collective will be stopping in Davis to present their “Sucked Dry: Examining Drought and Privatization from Mesoamérica to California” tour. “Sucked Dry” is an educational storytelling tour that uses design displays to promote water restoration efforts and demote monopoly on water resources by big businesses across the country. Beehive Collective has partnered with the organizations Restore the Delta and No on Prop. 1 in order to localize and authenticate their cause in northern California. The Age

MD: ‘One Baltimore’ Rally Unites Groups Against Privatization. On Monday, October 27, the One Baltimore coalition, which is comprised of a number of grassroots, faith-based, and union organizations, rallied in protest of Veolia North America, a water privatizing corporation’s attempts to secure a consultant contract with the city. They believe that this is the beginning of what will result in the privatization of the city’s water services. Earlier this month, a similar rally was held in front of City Hall, where protesters talked about the potentially detrimental impact that privatization could have on workers, whose jobs could be outsourced, and families, whose water bills could go up. The Real News Network

NC: Editorial: Paying more than twice as much, thanks to legislature. . . Legislators, in what they saw as an attempt to save money and help the paving industry flourish, included in their state budget bill a provision requiring the Department of Transportation to start outsourcing certain road work to the private sector, the Journal’s Arika Herron reported. “The mandate resulted in the Department of Transportation district that includes Forsyth County disbanding the crew that has been paving school parking lots, meaning that the school district will have to return to bidding the work out to private contractors,” Herron reported. . . . The average price from the DOT has been about $5.25 per square yard, he said, and he estimates that the private-sector move will cost the district about $12 per square yard. “This may force us to really push some projects back that we had planned on doing earlier,” he said. Winston-Salem Journal

 

October 30, 2014

News

This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America. Last year, Wendy Heller Chovnick, a former Teach For America manager, spoke out against her former organization in The Washington Post, decrying its “inability and unwillingness to honestly address valid criticism.” In recent years, such criticism has centered on Teach For America’s intimate involvement in the education privatization movement and its five-week training, two-year teaching model, which critics claim offers recruits a transformative résumé-boosting experience but burdens schools with disruptive turnover cycles. . . . An internal media strategy memo, obtained by The Nation, confirms Chovnick’s concerns, detailing TFA’s intricate methodology for combating negative media attention, or what it calls “misinformation.” The Nation

Democratic Candidates Are Paying the Price for Meddling With Social Security. Some things in life are self-evident. Fire burns, supply side economics doesn’t work, and no Democrat, ever, under any circumstances, no matter what, should even think about offering to cut one solitary cent from Social Security, through partial privatization or means testing or raising the retirement age. Huffington Post

NC: Group opposing I-77 toll lanes looks into legal challenge. The group who opposes toll lanes on Interstate 77 between Charlotte and Mooresville is beefing up efforts to stop the project. The group said it has hired a lawyer to look into the possibility of a legal challenge that could stop the toll road project. Members said they’ll study possible legal strategies in hopes of getting a judge to issue an injunction against the toll lanes. The state is close to finalizing a contract with the Spanish firm Cintra. WSOC Charlotte

OH: Ohio State might offer lease to manage its utilities. Ohio State University is looking at ways to make money from something that would ordinarily be one of its fastest-growing costs: energy. The idea, disclosed yesterday to faculty leaders, would involve an outside company signing a long-term lease to manage utility and lighting systems. . . . At first glance, the idea might seem similar to OSU’s 2012 agreement to lease parking operations to an outside vendor. The 50-year, $483 million deal has helped pay for academic programs, but it has also led to complaints from students and faculty members about rising parking fees. University officials say the similarities are that both plans involve long-term leases and are designed to provide OSU with a new income source. Columbus Dispatch

NJ: NJ charter schools see smaller percentages of poor and special needs students, study says. Charter schools in many of the state’s most disadvantaged districts do not look much like the communities they serve, according to a study to be released today by public school advocates. According to the report, the schools—concentrated in Camden, Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, and Trenton—educate significantly smaller percentages of poor students, those from non-English speaking families, and special education students, than do the public school districts they serve. The Star-Ledger

KS: Former Insurance Exec Sues Medicaid Agent. A former insurance company executive involved in Kansas’ privatized Medicaid program filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit alleging retaliation by management for objecting to potentially unethical or illegal maneuvers to improve company revenue, documents said Tuesday. . . . Centene was among three for-profit, managed-care organizations selected in 2012 by the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback to operate a new $3 billion initiative named KanCare. . . . Leary, who was vice president of contracting and network development at Sunflower State Health Plan, said in the suit Centene managers responded to poor financial performance of the Kansas operation by blocking assignment of Medicare beneficiaries to medical providers that had contracted for reimbursement rates in excess of Kansas’ standard rate. . . .The objective was to avoid expenses related to referrals by KUMC physicians and specialists. Insurance News Net

WV: Ballot issue raises privatization, necessity issues. 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 state constitution for one entity while leaving amendment safeguards in the hands of legislators at a later date. Montgomery Herald

MD: City should reject privatizing water – letter to editor. . . . Baltimore should not enter into a contract that could allow Veolia, a private corporation, to advise the city on its public water system. Many cities from Gladewater, Texas to Indianapolis have ended their contracts with Veolia after experiencing a litany of problems from rate hikes to overbilling to failure to invest in infrastructure — and they’ve actually saved money. Why would we look to a private water company to advise us on efficiency if cities around the globe are saving money and improving infrastructure after rejecting Veolia? This is a pivotal moment for our city when we must decide how to manage our water system well into the future. Baltimore Sun

 

 

October 29, 2014

News

Privatized Food Inspection Raises More Safety Concerns. In response to last week’s discovery that a shipment of imported beef from Canada was contaminated with the pathogen E.coli 0157:H7, Food & Water Watch today urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to reassess the agency’s positions on equivalency for privatized inspection systems, stop the implementation of those systems domestically and uphold the U.S.-Canada border inspection program. Food and Water Watch

Unmanned Rocket Explodes at Liftoff in Virginia. An unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp. rocket carrying cargo for the international space station suffered a catastrophic failure seconds after liftoff Tuesday, dealing a potential setback to NASA’s program to privatize such missions. . .. The launch was supposed to be the third cargo resupply mission by Orbital Sciences to the space station. NASA also has contracted with Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX as the company is known, to ferry food, other supplies and scientific experiments to the orbiting laboratory. But Tuesday’s events are bound to ground the Antares rocket for at least several months, while NASA and company experts dissect data, determine what went wrong and put fixes in place. Wall Street Journal

TX: Texas Road Proposition Popular with Voters. An overwhelming majority of Texans seem poised to approve the Proposition 1 constitutional amendment on Nov. 4 that would provide an additional $1.7 billion/year of state oil and gas production tax revenues to road projects. . . . The proposed state constitutional amendment stipulates that the new transportation money cannot be used to build toll roads or acquire right of way for them. Bond Buyer

TX: Unpopular Toll Road Idea We Said Was Dead Might Not Be Dead. North Texas’ regional transportation officials recently announced that they would no longer recommend forcing people out of their homes in the countryside northeast of Dallas to build another toll road, because it turned out that people didn’t like the idea. “We thought we had consensus that we should proceed in this direction, and obviously we were wrong,” said Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, when we talked last week. But does a regional transportation official’s recommendation even mean anything anymore? In this fast-paced world of Texas transportation officials and unpopular toll road projects, the state is sending mixed messages about whether the toll road is really dead.  Dallas Observer (blog)

IN: US bankruptcy judge approves reorganization plan for private Indiana Toll Road. A federal bankruptcy judge on Tuesday approved a reorganization plan for the Indiana Toll Road that should speed the sale of the 157-mile road forward. Federal Bankruptcy Judge Pamela Hollis confirmed a plan that will put the 75-year lease of the road out to bid after listening to a swift presentation from lawyers for Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., which currently holds the lease and operates the road. nwitimes

MD: Hearing scheduled for concerns on city water system privatization. Concerns about Baltimore selling its water system to a private company will be vetted at a City Council hearing at 5 p.m. Dec. 1. Councilman Carl Stokes said while Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration has stressed that there are no plans to sell the water system, he wants agency officials to explain why they are looking for a consultant to study operations. “Why go to an outside vendor rather than rely on [the city's] own expertise?” Stokes said. It’s unclear when the city’s spending panel will vote on the proposed $500,000 study. The hearing announcement came as hundreds rallied outside City Hall to draw attention to their concerns about keeping the water system public, as well as a call for good jobs, safe streets and high-quality schools. Baltimore Sun

KY: Dems push sleeper issue in Kentucky Senate race: Social Security privatization. The other day, the Dem-aligned Senate Majority PAC made a splash by going up in Kentucky with a very harsh ad hitting Mitch McConnell over his previous support for Social Security privatization. . . .The dust-up shows that Democrats are pushing hard to make Social Security privatization a sleeper issue in the last days of the Kentucky Senate race. And they were handed an unexpected opening in this regard, when McConnell himself made an offhand reference to his own involvement with George W. Bush’s Social Security privatization efforts in 2005. “He wanted us to try to fix Social Security,” McConnell said during a recent speech. “I spent a year trying to get any Democrat in the Senate…to help us. Washington Post (blog)

TN: Charter School Resistance Flares. When leaders of the Yes Prep charter group walked into a hostile meeting at American Way Middle School Monday, Oct. 27, set up by the Achievement School District, they also walked into a “Save Our School” rally organized by opponents of the school’s takeover by the state-run district. The result was a tumultuous show of opposition in which Yes Prep leaders left without getting to make their case for running the school for the ASD. Memphis Daily News

October 28, 2014

News

Bertha and the French Professor: Lessons for Public Private Partnerships. Jean Tirole is an influential, respected, and by all accounts gracious man who won this year’s Nobel Prize in economics. Bertha is a 7,000-ton tunnel boring machine that’s been stuck under Seattle for nine months—but is still tweeting—as state officials and a private contractor battle over who should pay to get her out. . . . Tirole has studied a more subtle problem: contingencies that are “observable but not verifiable” or enforceable in a court of law. That’s Bertha. No one foresaw that she would be stopped when she bumped into an 8-inch pipe after going only 1,000 feet, and now no one can agree on whose fault it was and who must pay. Importantly, in cases like Bertha or the Indiana Toll Road, the private contractor can walk away, but the state cannot. . . . The message from both Prof. Tirole and Bertha is: Contracting is rough business. States and localities need help thinking through all of the challenges, especially in the blinding light of what may look like easy money. Tax Policy Center

Democrats Pound Republicans Over Their Push to Privatize and Cut Social Security. The piper must be paid. The Tea Party extremism of the modern day Republican Party is being used against them in the final push toward the midterm elections this November 4th, with Democrats pounding Republicans over their efforts to privatize and cut Social Security and Medicare. PoliticusUSA

Will This Election Be a Referendum on Privatization? – Donald Cohen. As we approach Election Day, a number of governors in tight races are finding that privatizing public services isn’t good politics. But it may be good for campaign fundraisers seeking donations from corporations that want government contracts. A new report released by the Center for Media and Democracy highlights the intensive efforts of governors seeking re-election to privatize important public services to private firms. Time after time, outsourcing has gone awry, generating worse outcomes for the public, scandals, lawsuits, and scorching headlines that are impacting the campaigns. The report includes examples from Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Wisconsin. Diane Ravitch’s blog

New York Educators Respond to TIME’s Cover. Once again, TIME has chosen to play the teacher bashing blame game with the rotten cover titled “Rotten Apples.” TIME is parroting the assault on public schools and teachers being promoted by hedge-fund and Silicon Valley billionaires seeking to privatize our public schools. This latest TIME cover is a head on attack on the profession of teaching. It ignores the real issues impacting quality of students’ education, resulting from the systemic inequality and severe underfunding of public schools.   TIME

PA: Philadelphia City Council Pulls Plug on PGW Privatization Deal. Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke today notified the Nutter administration that City Council will not be endorsing the sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works to a private owner, effectively killing the deal. The deal needed City Council approval, but the legislation was never introduced, nor hearings scheduled. . . . “The simple reality is that there is no appetite to sell PGW as proposed by that specific, very specific proposal,” Clarke said.   CBS

IN: Indiana will not try to reclaim Toll Road. Elected officials from northern Indiana, most prominently Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, have urged state government to reclaim the Indiana Toll Road after its private operator went bankrupt. Not a chance, Indianapolis replied. Indiana Public Finance Director Kendra York wrote a letter back to Donnelly saying the state has no plans to reclaim the Toll Road just because the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., a Spanish-Australian consortium, has filed for bankruptcy in a bid to sell off the 157-mile tollway after racking up about $6 billion in debt. The state wants to stick with a private operator so the Indiana Department of Transportation does not assume responsibility for the road’s maintenance.  nwitimes.com

IL: Analysis: Guilty Plea Spells Trouble For Redflex In Corruption Trial. Judge Virgina M. KendallRedflex Traffic Systems, the embattled Australian photo ticketing company, faces an uphill battle maintaining its innocence now that a key party is turning state’s evidence. On Wednesday, Martin O’Malley notified US District Judge Virgina M. Kendall that he would change his plea from not guilty to guilty at a December 10 hearing in the Chicago, Illinois red light camera bribery case. O’Malley, a Redflex contractor, was a friend of John Bills, the Chicago official in charge of the nation’s most profitable photo enforcement program. According to prosecutors, O’Malley leveraged his relationship to transfer $2 million from Redflex to Bills in return for landing and expanding the lucrative contract that ultimately earned the Australian company $126 million. O’Malley worked for Karen Finley, the head of US operations for Redflex. TheNewspaper.com

NY: State reaches for risky private equity investment for pension fund. New York State’s underfunded retirement fund is reaching for a return on investment using private equity that is riskier than its 1.06 million members may feel comfortable with. . . . The state pension plans are now 92 percent funded. That amounts to a $14.6 billion hole. Part of the problem is that the number of retirees is increasing at a faster rate than those paying into the system. DiNapoli’s challenger in the state comptroller’s race warned that private-equity investments look good now, but can turn bad very quickly. “Private-equity investments can be very risky,” says Republican Bob Antonacci. New York Post

OH: Here’s where Cincinnati City Council’s $18M surplus will go. . . And in a last minute addition to the plan, $1 million will go to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. That money will cover the cost of winding down the failed plan to privatize city parking. Cincinnati.com

October 27, 2014

News

Md. gubernatorial candidates say they’ll reconsider ICC toll rates. The two candidates for Maryland governor told The Washington Post this week that they would reconsider the toll rates on the Intercounty Connector, the 3-year-old highway between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties that has drawn motorist complaints for high tolls. Some critics attribute the road’s relatively empty feel to the fact that many motorists don’t want to pay, or can’t afford, the tolls. Those who don’t want to pay remain stuck on the Capital Beltway and crowded side roads. Washington Post

TX: Has privatization failed Texas utility customers? Privatizers use the one-size-fits-all economic theory of “retail choice-free market competition” to promote the deregulation of Texas electric utilities. Privatizers promise that lower electricity prices and higher system reliability will follow electric utility deregulation. Privatizers’ sloganeering convinces on-the-take politicians and the unsuspecting electorate to approve their lobbyist-written deregulation rules and laws.mPrivatizers say the deregulation of Texas electric utilities is successful and other states should follow suit. This is misinformation. Relative electricity prices have increased dramatically, and dangerously lower electrical system reliability is the result of Texas electric utility deregulation in 2002. PennEnergy

KY: Mitch McConnell Reminds Everyone He Tried to Privatize Social Security. With less than two weeks to go in the Kentucky Senate race, minority leader Mitch McConnell made the unusual choice to bring up his past support for privatizing Social Security. In a speech before the Louisville Rotary Club, McConnell recalled how hard he worked to get then-President George W. Bush’s plan through Congress in 2005. The Nation

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. Gov. Kasich has defended JobsOhio on transparency and accountability for years, including in a sit-down interview recently….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 Public Media

NY: Moreland Commission member surprised at interim LIPA report. A member of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on LIPA said Friday that he was surprised to discover recently that an interim report on privatizing the utility excluded references to several commissioners’ early misgivings about the idea. Newsday

NY: Public Education Advocates Rally For Change. . . The speakers held the audience of approximately 200, plus others watching via livestream on schoolhouselive.org, in rapt attention for more than five hours, as they built sharp critiques of the current state of public education toward a powerful finale that featured Ravitch and Brown in a deep conversation about students’ civil rights. The panelists presented a united front in depicting the roots of the problems in education: wealthy benefactors, with little to no education experience, leading “reform” without the input of seasoned professionals. Teachers, principals, professors count themselves as troops on the ground, with significant insight into the issues within public education. They have no shortage of ideas as to how to fix them. However, it seems no one is asking them, these professionals say. Hence, Public Education Nation, which billed itself as “the voices of educators, parents and students, rather than billionaires, or those who echo their talking points,” according to education activist, NPE co-founder, and host Anthony Cody. Long Island Press

IN: Opinion – Toll Road lease was a gamble with Hoosiers’ future. If the Great Recession taught us anything, it’s that speculative trading in overly complex and risky financial products is no basis for achieving long-term economic prosperity. This raises an important question: Should elected officials emulate this approach by converting public assets like the Indiana Toll Road into financial instruments through complex public-private partnerships? The recent bankruptcy filing by the Spanish-Australian concessionaire, which won the 75-year lease for the Toll Road, strongly suggests that elected officials are entering into poorly understood agreements that will expose taxpayers to financial risk for many decades to come. Indianapolis Star

CA: California Toll Road Sells $1.4 Billion in Bonds. The operator of a struggling toll road in southern California sold about $1.4 billion in bonds on Wednesday, capitalizing on a broad decline in yields that has whetted investors’ appetite for riskier bets. Wall Street Journal

CA: State schools chief race may reverberate beyond California. . . Vogel said most troubling were the wealthy individuals who are backing Tuck, among them people who promote privatization of public schools. In the last three weeks, a group supporting Tuck has raised more than $8 million. Donors include Manhattan Beach businessman William Bloomfield, who gave $2 million; Los Angeles entrepreneur Eli Broad, who gave $1 million; and Doris Fisher, co-founder of The Gap, who contributed $950,000. Los Angeles Times

PA: State’s ‘public-private’ transportation deal will replace 53 bridges. A team of Pennsylvania-based subcontractors has three years to replace 558 structurally deficient Pennsylvania bridges, including 53 in Allegheny County. PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch announced Friday that Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners would lead the department’s $899 million Rapid Bridge Replacement Project. Philly.com

 

 

October 24, 2014

News

Land, no: Poll says Western voters oppose giving federal lands to states. A majority of Westerners think public lands belong to the nation and should not be put in the hands of states, which they fear might not conserve those lands properly, a new poll claims. The poll, released by the Center for American Progress, said that 52 percent of voters in eight Western states would oppose bills to transfer federal lands to the states. “Privatization schemes would devastate outdoor traditions such as hunting and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a statement the center released with the poll results. White Mountain Independent

Google Quits ALEC, But Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell Stay Put. When Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently called out the American Legislative Exchange Council for “literally lying” about climate change and his company announced it would not renew its ALEC membership, it was just one of the conservative business lobby group’s latest — and loudest — setbacks. Thanks to pressure from shareholders, unions and public interest organizations, more than 90 companies have severed ties with ALEC since 2012, according to the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which tracks the secretive group’s activities on its ALEC Exposed website. Huffington Post

A guilty verdict (finally!) on Bush’s Blackwater mercenaries. Remember Blackwater? The mercenary firm that made big money in Iraq, thanks to the Bush team’s unprecedented efforts to outsource the U.S. occupation and entrust war-fighting to profit-motive privateers? The marauding guns for hire – each was paid $1,222 per day in tax dollars, roughly six times the daily pay of an average U.S. army soldier – who achieved infamy by shooting and killing 17 innocent Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square, one of the most hideous incidents in Bush’s war? You probably don’t remember the ’07 massacre, or much about Blackwater. But the “security” company was back in the news yesterday, when a federal jury in Washington determined that what had transpired in that Baghdad square was criminal. Four Blackwater mercenaries were found guilty (one of murder, three of voluntarily manslaughter), and jailed. Newsworks.org

Why the Blackwater convictions won’t slow America’s ‘shadow armies’. . . Despite the convictions of four Blackwater operatives, lawmakers have not moved on legislation that would provide clearer jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by private contractors or pushed for industry reform. With an army staffed by volunteers, contract firms such as Blackwater are an ingrained aspect of the American warrior class — whether there’s peace or not. “When the military had to leave, it made us even more dependent on contractors for security,” former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) told Foreign Policy, commenting earlier this year on Iraq’s security. “The one thing that’s a given: We can’t go to war without contractors and we can’t go to peace without contractors.” And now, with a renewed push to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, analysts say President Obama is confronted with hard circumstances that may force a wider deployment of contractors to a region still haunted by the scandal. How can he dislodge the Islamic State without contractors if airstrikes don’t work and he won’t deploy American soldiers? Will he need to summon what ProPublica called the “shadow armies?” Washington Post

CA: Dropbox, Airbnb, and the Fight Over San Francisco’s Public Spaces. . . The protest—which drew at least two hundred people, including several middle- and high-school students who said that their parents and school principals had approved their absence from school—was a response to a video that went viral on Bay Area social media on October 10th. The video, which was first picked up by the local blog Uptown Almanac, jumped to more than half a million views after a post on the blog Valleywag. It depicts an incident that occurred, in August, at the soccer field at Mission Playground, a public park in San Francisco’s historically Latino but increasingly gentrified Mission District. In the video, a group of adults—mostly white males—approach a dozen or so Latino teen-agers and ask them to forfeit the field. . . .The men explain that they paid to reserve the field, and a man named Conor arrives with a printed document. “It’s pretty simple, man. We paid twenty-seven dollars to reserve the field for an hour,” Conor says to Kai, holding the piece of paper up to his face. “Read it. Read it.” The New Yorker

CA: Groups opposing water-funding proposition exhibit art on Sproul Plaza. An art exhibition Tuesday on Sproul Plaza depicted criticisms of Proposition 1, a measure to authorize $7.5 billion to fund water-related programs.. . . “We’re against Prop. 1 because a lot of money is being asked to pay for projects that subsidize public water for private interests,” said spokesperson Javier Padilla-Reyes of No on Prop. 1. “It doesn’t do enough to address the drought or the continuing issue of the oversubscription of water we don’t have.” Padilla-Reyes said the legislation would benefit a select handful of individuals with big farms in south Central Valley. The overarching problem, he added, is that California has given out more water rights than it has water to give. . . .   About 20 students and community members sat on the grass as Padilla-Reyes and other speakers involved used the art to demonstrate their views, focusing on the “privatization of water” but also including other ecological issues. The Daily Californian

CA: ‘Private security patrols’ a no-go as San Jose City Council rejects safety grant program. Despite a depleted police force and a rising crime rate, the San Jose City Council has rejected a councilmember’s recommendation to provide neighborhoods with funds to hire private security personnel and deploy other safety measures, a suggestion that had the support of the city’s police union. . . . At the Oct. 7 council meeting council members – uncomfortable with what they described as a step towards privatization of the police force — declined to advance Kalra’s recommendation to a vote. SFGate (blog)

PA: Pa. cities consider leasing out water system to balance budget. . . Reading’s water system—everything from the water, the dam, the filter plant, miles of pipes and tunnels—well, it’s worth a lot of money. Some guess around $200-300 million. Reading Area Water Authority chairman Ernest Schlegel acknowledges it’s money the cash-strapped city of Reading needs, but he’s wary of privatization. “Many times with private companies, I think everyone knows, when revenue is down, they start to cut corners,” said Schlegel. “They may have a pump that could last five years; they extend that life to ten years.” . . . Reading’s mayor, Vaughn Spencer, said it’s hard not to look to the water asset as a financial solution. “Water is the most valuable asset that any city could have,” Spencer said. “Water is the new oil.” Reading is trying to decide how best to monetize its water system in the long term. The mayor says his priority is to keep the system public. Newsworks.org

PA: Reading mayor expresses support for anti-privatization question on ballot. Voters in Reading will see what’s known as “Question 7″ when they head to the polls on Nov. 4. If it’s approved, the city would need voters’ approval before passing any proposal to sell or lease major city assets for more than a decade. . . . The movement came about because of the fight between Mayor Vaughn Spencer and city council over the future of the water authority.. . . A group known as “Our City, Our Water” collected 1,800 signatures to get the question on the ballot. WFMZ Allentown

October 23, 2014

News

Toll Road Rage Points To Reputation Challenge. Our Wall Street Journal colleagues report a political backlash against toll roads in Texas, “as residents realize that many major urban freeways are increasingly no longer free.” That phraseology is infelicitous: in fact, roads never were free; people just didn’t know which of their pockets the money was coming from. “ . . . The reputation risk of PPP occurs as pressures build on the historic sources of infrastructure finance, municipal bond markets and the gasoline tax, and as the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates a $3.6 trillion need for infrastructure investment by 2020. So the stakes are high and the advice from practitioners is that project sponsors communicate clearly and well in advance what users are getting for what they are paying. “A lot of it is managing expectations early in project so people understand that if they want a project built, current funds don’t pay for it and they will have to pay more, through tolls or taxes,” said D.J. Gribbin, a managing director at Macquarie Capital specializing in PPP. Wall Street Journal

October Charter School Investigations—Tales of Fraud, Mismanagement, and Mis-Education. There is so much news from place to place about the financial and management scandals in particular charter schools and charter management organizations that it is hard to keep track. Schools are taking public money—and too frequently finding a way to make a profit—while failing to serve the children they enroll or neglecting to enroll particular groups of children with special needs. All of this increases the burden on public schools and misspends tax dollars, thereby undermining the public good. Here are just three examples that have surfaced during mid-October. Progressive.org

Postal workers appeal to Harvard president. The American Postal Workers Union is calling upon Harvard University’s president to oppose a deal between Staples Inc. and the U.S. Postal Service, or resign her seat on the office supply company’s board. “We’re not talking about just selling stamps,” union President Mark Dimondstein said in a statement. “Staples is pretending to be a post office, using low-wage, poorly-trained workers in an environment with weak security. Mail handled by Staples isn’t even considered U.S. Mail until it is handed-off to a uniformed postal worker.” The postal workers union said Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust earns over $300,000 a year as a Staples board member and should use her position on the board to push for an end to the deal, or resign from the company board. Fort Worth Star Telegram

MI: So How’s That Privatization Thing Working, Republicans? Where to begin? Ever since Gov. Snyder decided last year to save the taxpayers some money by privatizing the food delivery system in Michigan’s Department of Corrections, it’s been a domino effect of catastrophes. One after another, after another, after another, after another. But rather than considering the fact that, you know, maybe we have a problem here, Gov. Snyder has steadfastly insisted that hiring Aramark was the right move. PoliticusUSA

TX: Texas state, local ballots include road funding questions. Voters throughout Texas and specifically in the Austin area will cast ballots next month on efforts to raise money for transportation work. The statewide ballot will include a proposed amendment to the state Constitution about transportation funding. Proposition 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot will ask voters whether to authorize tapping the state’s oil and gas severance tax to boost revenue for non-toll roads and bridges. Land Line Magazine

 

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