February 14, 2012

FL: Senate keeps prison privatization alive
An effort to block the planned handover of South Florida prisons to private contractors barely failed during hours of contentious debate on Monday. But those leading the charge against the privatization – which has become a top priority of Senate President Mike Haridopolos – predicted that they would have just enough votes to kill the measure when it comes up for a final vote on Tuesday. “Our 20 are solid,” said Republican Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, referring to the current votes against privatization. With 20 votes against and 20 for, the bill (SB 2038) would lack a majority in the 40-member Senate and die. With the plan drawing Democratic support and Republican opposition, every vote counts. An amendment brought by another opponent, Republican Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, was debated Monday and ultimately died 21-19. It would have killed the plan, believed to be the largest prison privatization in United States history, in favor of more legislative study. Miami Herald

FL: Don’t rob reeling school districts to pay charters – editorial
Charter schools currently get tax money based on each student they have, but when it comes to the separate pot of construction and maintenance money, school districts get to decide whether and how much to give charter schools. A bill introduced by Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican, would do away with that local discretion. District school boards would be forced to proportionately share property tax revenue for construction and maintenance on a per-student basis with charter schools. About a $140 million windfall for charter schools. Backers say the move simply balances the funding scales. Earlier this week, a Florida TaxWatch analysis revealed a funding disparity. Charters get only 70 cents for every dollar per student that traditional schools receive. Wait. Rewind … Didn’t charter school prophets pledge to do more with less? Wasn’t less regulation supposed to deliver greater efficiency?Now, Wise’s bill would poke another stick in taxpayers’ eyes. For-profit charter management companies could take the money and build schools and lease them to the charter schools. Should the school fold, taxpayers are out the money — and the building. Unacceptable. We’ve supported charter schools in the past, but traditional public schools aren’t in shape to absorb the blow they’d take from Wise’s bill. In many districts, much of the property tax is already dedicated to servicing debt for construction to accommodate growth and class-size mandates. Districts could be left scrambling to pay their debt — which could sink their bond ratings. Orlando Sentinel

New law could make it easier for airports to privatize security screening
Until now, airports that wanted to contract private companies to provide security screening services had to apply to the TSA under its Screening Partnership Program (SPP) and prove there would be “a clear and substantial advantage to transition to privatized screening.” However, the FAA authorization bill, which the Senate approved on Feb. 6 and President Obama is expected to sign it into law soon, shifts the burden of proof from the airport to the TSA, which would now have to prove the advantage of privatization does not exist. TSA Administrator John Pistole…said that privatized screening at airports that participate in the SPP have in the past cost between three percent and nine percent more than if the TSA had operated screening services at those airports. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), ranking member of the transportation security subcommittee, baited Pistole, asking him to agree that shifting the burden of proof to the TSA would make securing the country more difficult. Pistole deftly avoided the prompt with a non-committal answer: “Well, Congress has passed this law and the president intends to sign it, I believe, so I look forward to working with the committee to figure out the best way forward on this.” Security Director News

Working people speak out on attacks on public employees
,,,One thing California might have gotten a clue about is furloughs for public workers. Furloughs are basically forced days off. That’s exactly what happened in California. State workers were forced to sacrifice every other paid Friday of work to help balance the state budget. The state workers furlough officially ended October 2010 but now we are still suffering from a $26 billion deficit. Local governments are now considering furloughs as a solution. Some of my coworkers are even forced to take their children to work because the schools are closed down every other Friday. Didn’t we learn our lesson? There’s this strange rationale swooping around that if funding were reallocated and controlled by local government that would solve the problem.  I’m no economist but a redistribution of a $26 billion deficit still equates to a $26 billion deficit, doesn’t it? I recently caught up with a couple of state workers to ask them what they thought about the furloughs and their effect on the economy. AlterNet