April 23, 2015


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