March 9, 2015


Don’t Privatize The Postal Service. Build On. . .Instead of shrinking the Postal Service, we should build on it. That means, first of all, appreciating that the USPS can be much more than a delivery service. In many small towns, the local post office continues to be a community hub, a place to meet neighbors and get news. And postal carriers don’t just deliver letters — they often keep an eye on the elderly and homebound, and alert first responders if things look amiss. They could do even more. The Postal Service’s fleet of vehicles — the largest in the country — could be equipped to detect air pollutants and report potholes, water leaks, and other infrastructure repair needs. Why stop there? The USPS could raise tens of billions of dollars each year by reinstating post office savings accounts and banking services, which it efficiently provided for 55 years in the first half of the 20th century. Customers received 2-percent interest on their savings accounts, and the post office loaned their money to community banks, which then made loans to local businesses. This virtuous circle benefitted the entire community. At its peak, 4 million Americans took advantage of these services, saving $36 billion in 2014 dollars.

Charter School in Miami Fails, but Proves Useful on Jeb Bush’s Résumé. . . Now trash and fronds from the palm trees that students planted litter the grounds, and cafeteria tables are folded away in a dark doorway. Jeb Bush’s charter school is a ruin baking in the Miami sun. Co-founded in 1996 by Mr. Bush with what he called in an email a “powerful sense of pride and joy,” Liberty City Charter School was the first school of its kind in Florida and a pioneer in a booming industry and national movement. It became an image-softening vehicle for Mr. Bush’s political comeback, though the school’s road was anything but smooth. New York Times

Private Email Use a Source of Friction in Many Statehouses. Governors and other elected officials routinely use private emails, laptops and cellphones for government business, a popular strategy that sometimes helps them avoid public scrutiny of their actions. Open-records fights over private emails have had varying results. New York Times

MO: Ferguson Mayor bragged about privatized law enforcement services months before Brown shooting. . . In early 2014, just a few months before the city of Ferguson exploded in street protests after the shooting of Michael Brown, Mayor Knowles, gave an interview to Missouri’s leading libertarian think-tank, the Show-Me Institute. In that interview, embedded below, Mayor Knowles explained the many wonderful benefits of privatization. When asked if there was anything he would not consider privatizing in Ferguson, Mayor Knowles answered: “Really there isn’t much that we haven’t explored that we didn’t see was a good idea.” And while Knowles did tell the Show-Me Institute interviewer that he wasn’t in favor of privatizing the police force itself, he explained that he was actively working to privatize law enforcement services. PandoDaily

IN: Consultants try to calm nerves over Toll Road bid. Some Lake County officials have questioned the financial wisdom of getting into the toll road business. Consultants and lawyers trying to sell Wall Street investors on paying for a Lake and LaPorte County takeover of the bankrupt Indiana Toll Road lease agreement this spring tried Thursday to assure skeptical members of the Lake County Council prior to crucial votes set for Monday to undertake the project. “What is the worst-case scenario?” Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland asked. Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, pondered, “If this so lucrative, why did the state take a pass on it?”

FL: Disability Groups Fear Proposal Could Privatize Vocational Rehab…. There’s a plan to bring some changes to vocational rehab. But few lawmakers know about it….. Some disability advocates say they’ve been blindsided by the proposal. Its Senate sponsor is former Senate President Don Gaetz, its House sponsor is Representative and Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. John Pribanic with the Florida Rehabilitation Council, views the proposal as well-intentioned, but problematic. “Unfortunately, I think a repeal of VR is absolutely an extreme, an extreme measure.” The bill creates a sunset date for vocational rehab and requires the agency create a pilot partnership program with local organizations. But the big fear is that the language is a forerunner to privatization. But Gaetz says contrary to those rumors, the program is not being privatized, nor is it being cut. Health News Florida

IL: Still waiting for Gov. Rauner to kill the Illiana – editorial. . . The highway, which would connect Interstate 55 in Will County to I-65 in Lake County, Ind., was envisioned as an alternative to congested I-80. But few truckers will be willing to detour 10 miles out of their way and pay tolls that could run up to $50. Under the public-private arrangement brokered by IDOT, the state would have to make up the difference if — make that when — toll revenues come up short. A thumbs down from CMAP’s staff should have ended the discussion. But the agency’s board was overruled by a state policy committee chaired by former IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider, who was appointed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn. Chicago Tribune

CA: Library supporters concerned about privatization talk. . . “It has come to my attention that there is a forthcoming proposal to place the Kern County library system under private nonprofit management,” Ann Wiederrecht wrote in an email to supervisors. “Such an idea is outrageous. The Kern County Library is truly a public service open to people of all ages and backgrounds.” “In order for a for-profit group to make a profit, it will be necessary to cut services even more than they have been and/or in some way start charging for services,” wrote Bakersfield College luminary Jerry Ludeke in another email. “Free public libraries are an American treasure and a ‘hand-up’ for many in the culture.” The Bakersfield Californian

CA: How Los Angeles Created Skid Row. . . In the late ‘60s, the amount of low-cost rental housing in the area was halved right before the oil crisis in 1971. In the late ‘80s, the explosion of crack cocaine hit just in time for the recession of the early ‘90s and the privatization of state mental hospitals, which was overseen by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. The burst of the housing bubble of the mid-2000s happened to coincide with a hideous practice among several private hospitals found depositing impoverished, mentally ill patients on the doorstep of the Union Rescue Mission in 2005. One especially determined hospital spent five years bussing nearly 500 patients to Skid Row from Las Vegas. Daily Beast

NJ: N.J. group wants state to reduce number of inmates in prison. . . “This is a cutting edge issue,” said Bob Witanek, co-founder of Decarcerate the Garden State, a group that began a year ago in Newark, and has recently been traveling the state with the aim of educating people about what it calls the “mass incarceration” of residents in New Jersey and the U.S. . . . “We now have the privatization of prisons, and just like any other private enterprise, it puts profit ahead of caring for people,” she said. “Their main goal is to increase profit and save money, so they have an incentive to support laws like mandatory-minimum sentences and life without parole.” Decarcerate the Garden State is currently petitioning the state Senate and Assembly to pass a law reducing the number of inmates in New Jersey’s prisons. However, they have yet to find a state legislator to sponsor such a bill.

MA: Civil rights fight looms on charter schools cap. . . Paul F. Ware Jr., Michael B. Keating, and William F. Lee, who are partners at three top law firms, say the lawsuit they will file to overturn the state cap on the number of charter schools will break ground on two fronts. It will be the first constitutional challenge to a charter school cap in any state and the product of an unusual alliance among lawyers from rival firms — “a unique occurrence in Boston legal history,” according to Lee. Their decision to challenge the cap in court reflects growing frustration among charter school advocates who have seen recent efforts to expand the number of these schools in Massachusetts defeated by state lawmakers. Boston Globe

MA: Privatized skating rinks freezing out the public. . . Across the region, privately managed state-owned skating rinks such as Ulin Rink offer significantly less public ice time than their state-run counterparts — whether for free or a for a fee — and less than the minimum of 16 hours a week required by state rules. . . . The changes are the downside of privatization at the DCR, a cash-strapped state agency that, for more than two decades, has been turning over management of skating rinks and other recreational facilities to private companies, local governments, and nonprofits. New managers often bring private investment to maintain the facilities but sometimes at a hidden cost to the public. “It stinks when they take away hours because [then] there is nothing for the kids to do,” said Sarah Lacombe, a Milton resident who skated at the rink as a child and now brings her two children. Boston Globe

CT: Contracting Watchdog Concedes It Has Limited Oversight Of UConn. . . The contracting board was created in 2007 as one of the reforms enacted in response to the scandals that drove Gov. John G. Rowland from office. The law allows anyone who bids on a state contract to contest its award by complaining to the board, which determines whether an investigation is warranted. The law also requires state agencies to go through a rigorous process before privatizing services provided by state employees. UConn says the contracting board has oversight over the university only when it seeks to outsource work done by state employees. The debate over the board’s authority was prompted by a complaint about how the winner of a multi-million-dollar contract for janitorial work was selected. The complaint alleged that university administrators improperly reversed a selection committee’s initial decision to give the new contract to GCA Services Group, which had the existing contract. Hartford Courant

OH: Ohio online charter school spent more than $2.27M on ads. Ohio’s largest online charter school reported at least $2.27 million spent last school year on advertising to attract students. That’s about 2 percent of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow’s revenue for the school year, which was $112.7 million. About 90 percent of that revenue was funded by the state. The charter school’s advertising spending included radio and television time, Facebook and Google ads and mailing lists. The $2.27 million spent on ads only accounts for some of the school’s advertising, the newspaper reports. Other ads are paid for by the school’s for-profit management company, the records for which aren’t public. State Rep. Teresa Fedor, who has called for an overhaul of state charter-school laws, called the school’s advertising spending “shockingly high,” adding that there’s no good reason to spend those kinds of tax dollars on ads. Toledo Blade

HI: Maui Memorial, losing $43M a year, could be privatized. . . A proposal before state lawmakers would allow a private operator such as Hawaii Pacific Health, the parent company of Straub and three other Hawaii hospitals, to take over Maui. But the proposal is opposed by Randy Perreira, the executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association…. Under the proposal, current hospital employees would be guaranteed employment for just six months but would have to re-apply for their jobs. The former state workers would probably see their private sector salaries increase — but their vacation, sick day and retirement benefits would decrease. Private health care workers generally lack pensions and lifetime medical benefits that state workers receive. Private health care employees also have significantly less vacation and sick time, since state workers receive 21 days a year in each category. State officials estimate Maui Memorial would save $26 million a year in fringe benefits under the deal. “And under those circumstances, they can operate on a less costly model,” Rosen said. Hawaii News Now

IA: Is Medicaid privatization about money or health? Iowa Medicaid leaders stress that the main reason they’re shifting the $4 billion program to private management is because they hope doing so will improve participants’ health. But some people fear the real point is to save serious money by limiting services. At a public hearing in Des Moines Friday, Department of Human Services Director Charles Palmer called the shift “a major venture” and “a journey.” The department plans to turn over most of the state’s Medicaid program to two to four managed care companies, starting next January. Des Moines Register

Countries Backtrack on Privatizing Retirement. Poland is among 11 countries that have recently rolled back or abandoned efforts to privatize their retirement systems. . . The privatization, strongly encouraged by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, reflected what was seen as an urgent need to backstop traditional government retirement systems in which benefits are paid by contributions from people still working. These so-called pay-as-you-go schemes face funding shortfalls in many countries, including the U.S. But the problem is especially acute in countries such as Poland where birthrates have declined or many young people work abroad. Privatization was supposed to “provide greater financial stability and make pensions less prone to political interference,” says Stephen Kay, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. So far, it appears to have achieved neither goal. Bloomberg