May 28, 2015

OH: Cleveland Heights may delay vote on water-system agreement with Aqua Ohio. Mayor Dennis Wilcox said he would support delaying a vote on a water-system agreement with Aqua Ohio, during a public hearing on the proposed contract with Aqua. More than 250 residents attended the hearing, howling and heckling at points, furious over a proposed agreement for the company to take over the city’s troubled water system. One resident said she would circulate a referendum petition if council approves a contract with Aqua Ohio and try to overturn the agreement on the ballot. Under the agreement, Aqua Ohio would take over operations of Cleveland Heights’ water system for 20 years or more. The company would give Cleveland Heights $3.7 million upfront to cover a projected 2015 deficit in the city’s water system budget, in exchange for a rate plan “that would generally cover five-year increments and cap rate increases at reasonable levels.”…. Residents wanted the city to look at other options, like joining the Cleveland Division of Water or borrowing money to repair its own system.

OH: Ohio’s Experiment in Public-Private Partnership Just Tripled in Cost. The Portsmouth Bypass will provide Ohio’s first test case of public-private partnership on a major transportation project. As such, the news about the project’s ballooning costs could have been better. “Ohio’s largest road project and first public-private partnership will cost taxpayers nearly three times its announced price tag of $429 million,” reports Pick Rouan. “The state will pay about $1.2 billion over the life of a 35-year agreement to build and maintain the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, a 16-mile link between Rts. 23 and 52 that will help drivers skirt the Ohio River city of Portsmouth, financial documents show.”

IL: Democrats shelve Rauner plan to privatize business creation. House Democrats have abandoned Gov. Bruce Rauner’s idea to privatize the state’s business-development agency but are moving ahead with Speaker Michael Madigan’s plan to make the state’s shrine to Abraham Lincoln a separate agency…. Rauner’s representatives objected to putting a sunset clause on the privatization plan in order to monitor its success….Whether Rauner will continue pursuing the public-private partnership for commercial expansion and job creation is unclear. Washington Times

MI: Senate OKs reopening Mich. prison for Vermont inmates. The State Senate voted Wednesday to allow Vermont inmates at a mothballed private prison as critics labeled the move as risky profiteering and the first step in a hidden privatization agenda for Michigan’s corrections facilities….The measure, now headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder, would let Florida’s GEO Group Inc. house high-level Vermont inmates there. Built in 1999 for young “punk” Michigan prisoners, it was idled in 2005 owing to higher costs than state-run prison, a declining state prison population and other issues…Opponents argue it’s a sneaky effort by majority Republicans to reopen the contracting out of prison space to private firms as an option for Michigan inmates. The Detroit News

IL: Environmentalists sue to stop Illiana Tollway.  Ilinois environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit over the proposed Illiana Tollway, claiming that the Federal Highway Administration’s approval relied on exaggerated population forecasts, faulty financial information and failed to adequately consider the environmental impact. . . The lawsuit also cites a Fitch Ratings report that IDOT failed to disclose last year after spending $112,000 for it. Fitch, a major bond rating agency, would not give an investment grade rating for the bonds that would be sold for the Illiana Tollway, indicating that the project had a higher risk of default through its proposed private-public partnership. “The decision to move forward with this project was based on the belief that a public-private partnership was possible,” Grosboll said. “Fitch makes it clear that no one would buy the bonds, and this information was kept secret. Any time a public agency pays for a report that they do not want to put in writing, that tells you something.” Chicago Tribune

IN: Indiana Toll Road Officially Changes Hands. ITR Concession Co. (ITRCC) on Wednesday announced that the financial close has been reached on the acquisition of ITRCC by IFM Investors. The announcement of financial close signifies that all documents related to the transition have been executed and all approvals and conditions have been satisfied. . . . ITRCC is planning a $260 million capital injection into the toll road over the next five years, including an increased focus on safety improvements for ITR customers and employees and the communities that we serve.

ID: Democratic lawmakers say Idaho should ditch private prisons. Two Democratic state lawmakers want Idaho to sever all ties with private prison companies and say they will pursue legislation on the issue next year, according to a letter sent Wednesday. . . .[T]he move is needed because of a recent FBI investigation into prison contractor Corrections Corp. of America and in light of Idaho’s history with such private companies. Despite reports of excessive violence, chronic understaffing and other management problems, board members opted to continue renewing CCA’s contract to run the state’s largest prison until Otter ordered the state to take over the facility last year.

Gail Collins: Let’s Do Some Railing. . . . Transportation unites the country, but the crowded parts and the empty parts have different needs. Cities require mass transit, which is something that tends to irritate many rural conservatives. (It’s that vision of a whole bunch of strangers stuck together, stripped of even the illusion of control.) Remote towns and cities need connections to survive, even though the price tag seems way out of proportion to those of us who don’t live on, say, an Alaskan island. Amtrak’s operating budget is about the same as the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes commercial air service to remote communities. . . . Fix Amtrak. Connect the country. New York Times

‘The Water Knife’ Cuts Deep. . . The story is steeped in ethical debates about humankind and its obligation to the planet that nurtures it, but Bacigalupi paints his characters in shifting shades of moral gray that are no less sharp because of it. That’s not to say that the The Water Knife doesn’t have a clear message, or that Bacigalupi isn’t an unabashedly activist author. But his case is so dramatically compelling — and so terrifyingly substantiated — that the book never feels like a sermon. The focus, rather, is on the people who are at the losing end of The Water Knife’s trickle-down dystopia, and how deregulation, privatization, and the concentration of power in the hands of the few might take strange new shapes in the coming decades. NPR

May 27, 2015

MT: Groups bring private hunting schemes to Montana. Big Game Forever director Ryan Benson has been touting sage grouse as the end of public hunting on public land. Ironic, because BGF and their close ally SFW have done more to end public hunting in their home state of Utah. Both groups have done this with private landowner tags and a giant auction in which both groups net millions in profit while the regular sportsman is cut out of hunting opportunity. The real coup, the fact Benson has taken $4.6 million in sportsmen’s dollars over the past few years under the guise he’s defending hunting rights by fighting against wolves and sage grouse. Utah taxpayers and sportsmen have been duped by their own state government, while hunters see less and less opportunity yearly because of privatization schemes of that state’s public wildlife. Billings Gazette

PA: Nurses protest District plans to privatize school health services. Umbrellas in hand, more than 50 people demonstrated outside School District headquarters Thursday against District plans to outsource school-based health services, a move that could further reduce the ranks of unionized school nurses. Several speakers said that the proposal was nothing more than a union-busting move that would line the pockets of private health-care providers on the backs of children. Philadelphia Public School Notebook

OH: Fight over sale heads to Ohio Supreme Court. The status of the nation’s first privately-owned state prison is up for debate in Ohio as litigation brought on behalf of union workers displaced by the historic sale is argued before the state’s high court. The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, a group of individuals and the liberal think tank ProgressOhio sued in 2011 after Republican Gov. John Kasich and the GOP-controlled state Legislature passed a biennial budget bill authorizing the sale of Lake Erie Correctional Facility in Conneaut, along the shores of Lake Erie, and placing a second state prison under private management. The union argues that placing the privatization plan in the budget violated the Ohio Constitution’s single-subject rule for legislation. Defiance Crescent News

NC: Study proposed of leasing historic sites. . . Senate Bill 486 sponsored by Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and titled N.C. Trail Expansion/Economic Corridors, includes investigating leasing portions of several state-owned properties, including the North Carolina Zoo, to developers. The proposed bill also instructs the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, or any other department given responsibilities for the North Carolina Aquariums, to study economic development opportunities for the Oregon Inlet Lifesaving Station related to fishing, boating, camping, hiking, general outdoor activities, lodging, special event rental and other tourism-related economic development. The historic structure is on the south side of Oregon Inlet and has been stabilized but never restored inside. The Outer Banks Voice

IA: Branstad rapped by critics as he signs mental health proclamation. Progress Iowa, a liberal activist group, submitted petitions to Branstad’s office prior to the declaration’s signing with the names of more than 2,500 people against plans to end state management of Iowa mental health institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. In addition, about a half-dozen people showed up at the proclamation-signing ceremony wearing black armbands in an bid to call attention to a need for better mental health care for military veterans. The Des Moines Register

IA: Opinion: Government shrinks, but costs grow. . . Part of the impulse to privatize is ideological — the (mistaken) belief that the private sector can always do things more cheaply and efficiently than the public sector. Part may also be political — replacing Democratic-leaning and unionized public employees with Republican-leaning and non-union contracting businesses. Decisions to outsource ought to be made on a more rational basis than that. Which is why the state should pause in its rush to privatize health and social services. Before moving ahead, the state should undertake a nonpartisan review of when it makes sense, and when it doesn’t, to turn over government functions to private businesses. There should be an overall policy on privatization, rather than drifting into it piecemeal.

WI: Scott Walker Dumped as Chair of the Jobs Agency He Created. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won his election in 2010 on a promise to create 250,000 new jobs. To lead the effort, Walker created his flagship Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in 2011 and named himself Chairman of the Board. Now, as allegations of cronyism and corruption engulf WEDC, the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee has removed Walker as Chairman. Walker’s “love for Wisconsin” may also explain his effort in the same budget bill to shield a wide swath of WEDC documents and data from the requirements of Wisconsin’s open records law. Fortunately, the Joint Finance Committee also rejected that particular embrace. PRWATCH

WI: Legislature Wants to Privatize Low-Performing Public Schools. A radical privatization proposal has been inserted into the Wisconsin state budget and approved by the budget-writing committee. The plan initially applies to Milwaukee (where the public schools outperform voucher schools and get similar test scores to charter schools), but it could be extended to Madison, Racine and other “large, racially diverse” school districts. Under the plan, a commissioner would be appointed and have the power to fire all staff, both teachers and administrators, and hand the school off to a private operator to run as a charter or voucher school. In other words, public assets, schools paid for by the community, will be given away to private operators. Diane Ravitch’s blog




May 26, 2015

Privatization Has Been a Colossal Flop. . . This is a classic mismatch of wonderful theory and disastrous practice. The privatization theory is compelling. Government is inherently bloated, lazy, wasteful, dumb and inefficient because it does not have to face the discipline of the marketplace. Put public services up for private bidding and you will get the lower costs and greater efficiency that comes with free market competition. But privatization practice is often a disaster. An inefficient government monopoly is replaced by an even more inefficient private monopoly that is more expensive, wasteful and lacking in accountability or responsibility for serving the public good. The selection of private contractors is often rife with the corruption of political sweetheart deals. The profit motive consistently trumps public interest And shareholders and executives benefit at public expense, while public services deteriorate. Let’s do a quick review of the scorecard. Huffington Post

IL: Chicago’s $62 million blunder. Ending a costly court fight that City Hall blundered into, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has paid more than $62 million to settle a dispute with the private operators of four city-owned parking garages downtown, records show. The payment last month ended City Hall’s long and unsuccessful legal fight against claims from investors in the four privately operated garages under Millennium Park and Grant Park. . . Under the 2006 privatization deal, the Daley administration received $563 million to lease the parking garages for 99 years. As part of the deal, the city wasn’t supposed to allow any new competitors in a vast area surrounding the garages. But less than three years after the Chicago City Council approved the deal, the Daley administration allowed the Aqua garage to open to the public just a block from the nearest of the privatized lots. Arguing that that violated their deal, the operators of the garages filed a claim against the city, asking for at least $200 million.   Chicago Sun-Times

CO: Editorial: More tolls are in metro Denver’s future. Without additional public money for highways or infrastructure improvements or an appetite to raise the gas tax, costs to build highways will be borne partly by private entities like Plenary Roads that use tolling to recoup their investment. The Denver Post

NY: NY rejects all applications for new charter schools. The state Education Department has rejected all 15 applications for new charter schools, including 12 in New York City, claiming they failed to meet academic standards…. The decision, which was made in the past week, comes at a time when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Republican-controlled state Senate are pushing to raise the cap for charters allowed in the state from 460 to 560. But Mayor Bill de Blasio and the teachers unions oppose charter school expansion, as does the Democrat-run state Assembly. Under the current formula, the city is authorized to open only 25 more charters — publicly funded, privately managed schools exempt from union rules. New York Post

NC: Protesters continue fight against I-77 toll lanes. Protesters said their 2-year fight to try and stop the Interstate 77 toll lane project isn’t over, and are heading to Raleigh Tuesday. . . .”Best case scenario would be (Gov. Pat) McCrory would listen to 1.5 million people in this area who say this is the time to tap the brake on these tolls,” Suter said. “I have teenage boys right now and they’ll be almost 70 before these tolls go away,” Vallee Bubak said. . . . But last week the state closed the financial deal with a subsidiary of Spanish-owned Cintra. . . . Four cities and two counties approved resolutions asking the state to back out of the $647-million deal over concerns about the contract. Suter argues the issue may soon impact people beyond the metro area. Construction crews will begin working on the interstate this summer. WSOC Charlotte

NJ: Liberty State Park supporters protest threat of privatization of park at picnic. Supporters of Liberty State Park gathered earlier this month for a picnic protest against the looming possibility of privatization within the waterfront park. More than 100 people attended the event, organized by Friends of Liberty State Park. . . .In February, Gov. Chris Christie signed the Hackensack Meadowlands Agency Consolidation Act, merging the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission and New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The new agency, the Meadowlands Regional Commission, was initially given control of Liberty State Park. A set of amendments later passed that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to approve any development plans for the park and a public hearing would have to be held at the park.

IA: Editorial: Contact Obama administration to stop plan to privatize Medicaid. Medicaid provides health insurance to about 500,000 Iowans. For decades, the government program has been operated by the state, which is not beholden to shareholders. Spending has been held down by reducing fraud, paying lower reimbursements to providers and giving seniors alternatives to expensive nursing homes. On average, the annual cost to insure an Iowan with Medicaid is significantly less than insuring an individual with private coverage. Yet Gov. Terry Branstad is seeking to hand over administration of the huge health insurance program to for-profit managed care companies. With $4.2 billion on the line, businesses are salivating at the idea of landing one of these contracts with the state. Meanwhile, none of this makes sense to Iowans. Privatizing Medicaid will increase administrative costs as much as 300 percent.

WI: Letter to the editor: Plan to privatize Milwaukee schools is theft of public trust. Dear Editor: K12 Inc., a virtual education corporation receiving public funds, pays its CEO millions despite the poor performance of its students. Wisconsin’s Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga, authors of the plan to privatize Milwaukee Public Schools, must approve this theft of the public trust. They believe in education-for-profit.

May 20, 2015


Margaret Lavin: Privatizing the Public School System — Lessons From the French . . . After more than a half-century of privatizing public schools, France’s school system has not become the great societal leveler, but tragically, a place where children from poor backgrounds do far worse than kids from better-off backgrounds. It turns out that race and class are the major determining factor in student scores. Sound familiar? So what lessons should take from France’s long-standing educational experiment? Privatization of public schools is not the systemic reform that will ensure equitable and efficient public schools. Since the late 1980s we have implemented similar tactics in the form of charter schools and have had the same results as France, often exacerbating existing inequalities in our schools.   San Jose Mercury News

The Extinction of Fruits and Vegetables in 80 Years. . . Once considered to be the property of all, like water or even air, seeds have become largely privatized, such that only a handful of companies now control the global food supply. Agriculture has been around for 10,000 years, but the privatization of seeds has only occurred very recently. In that short time, seed diversity has been decimated, farmers have been put out of business due to rising seed costs… and the pesticide companies that control most seeds today have flourished. The Epoch Times

MT: A Privatized River Runs Through It. Missoula, Montana, the scenic mountain town that inspired A River Runs Through It, is fighting for control of the aquifer beneath it. Citing eminent domain, Missoula sued last year to take over the local water utility, Mountain Water Company, from its corporate owner, the Carlyle Group, a global investment firm with $194 billion in assets. In These Times

MN: State Auditor Otto calls privatization measure a ‘backstabbing’ behind closed doors. A measure passed by the Legislature Monday that would allow counties to hire private firms to perform audits drew the ire of Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who said the move is could result in layoffs for her office. . .Otto said Gov. Mark Dayton told her Saturday that he would veto a bill that carried such a provision. . . . Otto, a DFLer who is serving her third term, said the overnight deal was lawmakers “pulling a fast one on the taxpayers of Minnesota behind closed doors.” “We don’t have a profit motive, they do. There’s a difference,” Otto said Monday. “We are truly an independent audit shop and we are always there for the taxpayers’ best interest.”   Minneapolis Star Tribune

NY: Editorial: Private schools, public tab. THE ISSUE: The governor and Senate majority leader push a tax credit for donors to private and parochial schools. THE STAKES: How about fixing public schools first?   Albany Times Union

WI: Wisconsin budget committee to reject creating charter school approval board. The Legislature’s budget-writing budget committee plans to reject Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to create a new approval board to allow for more independent charter schools that operate outside the control of local public school boards. Minneapolis Star Tribune

IL: Editorial: Massive cuts to higher education a loser for Illinois. . .Without public universities, there wouldn’t be much of a middle class. Eighty percent of Americans who get undergraduate diplomas earn them at public institutions of higher education. But as states have cut support, tuition has soared. In Illinois, tuition is half again as high as just a decade ago, threatening to put college out of reach for many deserving students. To aid students, Killeen vows to keep a tuition freeze in place for this coming academic year and to avoid “backdoor privatizing,” in which public universities make up for funding cuts by admitting more full-pay out-of-state students and fewer who qualify for in-state discounts. Chicago Sun-Times

FL: Opinion: Prisons for profit. For the Republican Party of Florida, there is a new way to game the system. It is the private prison industry that has become one of the major financial contributors to the Republican Party’s ample coffers. Apparently, the incarceration and oppression of Florida’s most vulnerable citizens plays second fiddle to the party’s need for corporate sponsors. The News-Press

OH: Letter to the Editor: Stop starving public schools. . .Several charter schools have closed in recent years due to poor performance, but Ohio keeps throwing more tax money down that toilet. . . . Now a group of Cincinnati businessmen, with high-sounding declarations, and without the assistance of educators, wants to create more charter schools for more profit (“$25 million pledged for poorest schools” May 6). Many of these same businessmen got their educations at public or parochial schools and at public universities, but now they want to continue starving our public schools of needed funds instead of telling legislators to fully fund them. They have joined the hunt for another ten 10 percent of our nation’s wealth.

May 19, 2015


If Amtrak Were an Airline. . . In short, if Amtrak were run like an airline, we would see smaller seats, punitive booking practices, baggage schemes, and, quite possibly, higher prices. . . . On the other hand, not everyone would lose out. Amtrak’s C.E.O., with his three-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar salary, is grossly underpaid by the standards of the airline industry. Compare that to the American Airlines C.E.O., who, thanks to a successful merger, took home twenty-one million dollars in 2013. . . But, at bottom, there are advantages for consumers when Amtrak does not try to maximize its profits. Sometimes, the profit motive can inspire great improvements and innovations. Other times, it serves merely as an incentive to take more money from consumers for services we depend upon, acting as a kind of tax that is extracted in particularly painful ways. It is true that riding Amtrak sometimes feels like being caught in a time warp. Yet conservatives, of all people, should understand that there were a few good things about the old days, especially when it came to how people were treated. Amtrak may not be perfect, but compared with the airlines it is, at least, humane. The New Yorker

Why do Republicans really oppose infrastructure spending?. . . This is the big kahuna that the press generally feels uncomfortable reporting. Republicans – at the behest of their mega-bank/private equity patrons – really, deeply want to privatize the nation’s infrastructure and turn such public resources into privately owned, profit centers. More than anything else, this privatization fetish explains Republicans’ efforts to gut and discredit public infrastructure, and it runs the gamut from disastrous instances of privatizing private parking meters to plans to privatize the federal highway system. Indeed, if you listen to Republican proposals for “infrastructure reform,” what you hear is: privatization and a longing for private tolls, tolls, tolls. Daily Kos

Privatized Fannie, Freddie would lead to mortgage-rate spike, experts say. Today’s low mortgage rates could spike up almost a full percentage point if shareholders in finance-giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac get their way and the companies are released from federal control, according to new research from two prominent housing-market experts. If Fannie FNMA, +0.75% and Freddie FMCC, +1.57% were privatized, they would likely have to increase their capitalization, and that would lead to higher fees and costs that are passed along to borrowers, wrote Jim Parrott, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, and Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, in “Privatizing Fannie and Freddie: Be Careful What You Ask For.” Marketwatch

The In-State Tuition Break, Slowly Disappearing. . . Many of the most elite public universities are steadily restricting the number of students who are allowed to pay in-state tuition in the first place. A result is the creeping privatization of elite public universities that have historically provided an accessible route to jobs in academia, business and government. One of the most important paths to upward mobility, open on a meritocratic basis to people from all economic classes, is narrowing. New York Times

A Partial Privatization of Justice. Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO warns that the TTIP free trade agreement with Europe is a secret tribunal where only foreign investors can sue. The TTIP brings a crisis for democracy and the constitutional state by creating a parallel private arbitration system where corporate lawyers serve as judges and decisions are irrevocable. Labor and environmental regulations (and all public interest legislation) can be chilled and invalidated as “takings” or “indirect expropriations,” violations of the “human right to profit.” Bay Area Indymedia

Infograph: Modern Prisons and Their Predecessors. The United States has the most prisons in the world in order to house the highest number of incarcerated people in the world. 707 per every 100,000 people can be found in a prison. Out of every 100 citizens, 3 work in the justice system. 1 in 9 State employees works in corrections. How this vast prison system evolved is examined by looking back at what there was before modern prisons existed.

 WI: Privatization Fail: Scott Walker’s WEDC in Full Meltdown. . . [O]ne of his first acts as governor was to privatize the state’s economic development agency. Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) opened its doors in July 2011. After a series of damning audits and news reports, today Democratic state lawmakers called for a federal investigation of the scandal-plagued agency. . . . In 2012, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story that WEDC had lost track of $12 million in loans because it never asked businesses to pay back them back. . . .. A damning 2013 audit by Wisconsin’s professional, nonpartisan state audit bureau made headlines when it documented dozens of ways in which the new agency was breaking the law. The audit showed that WEDC made awards to ineligible recipients, for ineligible projects, and for amounts that exceeded specified limits. WEDC promised to clean up its act and reported to the legislature and the state audit bureau in October 2013 it had addressed all the concerns raised in the May 2013 audit. But a new May 2015 state audit shows the situation is even worse. PR Watch

IL: Illiana Expressway remains on pause in Ill. transport plan. Opponents have gained ground in their fight against the toll road, with its future now hinging on a review and decision by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

VA: Economist releases report on the impact of tolls on Portsmouth, VA. A report released Friday shows the economic impact tolls have had on the city of Portsmouth over the last 15 months. James V. Koch, an economist and professor at Old Dominion University, put the report together. Among other negative impacts, he said the tolls were part of the cause for significant traffic decline at the Midtown Tunnel. He also blamed tolls, in part, for a loss of about $3.52 million in sales tax collections each quarter, and for businesses that were “driven to the edge” with foreseeable closures.

VA: Chesterfield schools file hundreds of complaints against outsourced custodians. Documents obtained by 8News show hundreds of complaints filed by Chesterfield school employees against outsourced custodians. “Rooms aren’t getting cleaned, bathrooms aren’t getting cleaned, doors are being left unlocked for nights on end. GCA isn’t showing up to unlock the buildings to let teachers in,” said Rodney Martin, a Chesterfield parent. Those are just some of the nearly 200 complaints filed since last July against custodians with GCA Services Group since last July, when the Chesterfield School Board decided to outsource custodians in eight schools. Martin is concerned about the students’ safety. Complaints also include lights left on overnight, poor cleaning and inadequate staffing.   WRIC



May 18, 2015


Private Water Industry Says Water Bills “Have to Go Up”. I was the only member of the press present at the Southeast Water Infrastructure Summit, a gathering hosted by the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), “the voice of the private water industry.” . . . But the topic that received the most attention was the nation’s patchwork of rapidly deteriorating municipal water systems, which are estimated to need more than $1 trillion worth of upgrades. This, water executives said, not only represented a historic opportunity for their businesses, but could also be used as leverage to finally convince Americans to cough up more money for their tap water. It is the classic Shock Doctrine approach – turning a social crisis into a financial shakedown. Truthout

Support Builds For Overhauling The US Air-Traffic Control System. Lawmakers have been trying to reform the Federal Aviation Administration and the country’s air traffic control system since the 1980s. Now, a new move to privatize the United States’ air-traffic control system is gaining momentum among some airlines, unions and lawmakers. But the idea is controversial. While people can agree there’s a problem with the current system, which is outmoded, costly and inefficient, not everyone agrees on a solution. . . . The air-traffic control system is designed for a smaller volume of flight traffic and hasn’t been able to modernize, Pasztor says, “so this may be a time where you could really have a significant chance of dramatically changing the way air traffic control is administered and modernized in the Unites States. Here And Now

Charter School “Flexibility” Linked to Major Failures. Arne Duncan is calling for a 48% increase in the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) quarter-billion-dollar-a-year ($253.2 million) program designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools—an initiative repeatedly criticized by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls. . . . CMD’s review of state applications for the federal charter schools program shows that, in some cases, states are rewarded precisely because they lack statutory authority to hold charter school and their authorizers accountable as these states tend to score high on one of the rubrics used to evaluate applications: “flexibility offered by state law.” But grant applications are also judged based on the degree of “authorizer accountability” afforded by the state. How does this paradox play out in practice? PR Watch

Opinion: Privatize our public lands? No way!. . . Although legal scholars have declared land transfer schemes unconstitutional and economists have pointed out that states do not have the resources to responsibly manage these lands, the idea continues to gain momentum in the highest reaches of our government. The US Senate recently signaled its support for the “disposal” of America’s public lands, and Sen. Ted Cruz is making the sale of public lands a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. Invigorated by this type of support, a Utah State politician has gone on the road to peddle the snake oil. At least two cash strapped Oregon counties – Klamath and Wallowa – have ponied up taxpayer funds to support the endeavor. Clackamas County has thrown its hat into the ring with a statement of support. Lest you be worried there isn’t big money behind the effort, Americans for Prosperity is there as well!   Regator

Senate Pilot Project Would Privatize Some Military Base Commissaries. At least five military commissaries would be privatized under a two-year pilot program proposed in a Senate version of the 2016 defense budget unveiled Thursday. . . . Congress is eyeing benefits such as commissaries, pay and retirement for ways to reduce military personnel costs — a move that has riled troops and military service groups. . . .The group Veterans of Foreign Wars came out strongly against the Senate proposal, which follows a year of debate over cuts to the stores.

CA: Library union illustrates their opposition to privatization. “The Privatization Beast” is a story of a community coming together to support public services. The beast made an appearance Saturday at the Beale Memorial Library. People who frequently use our libraries are opposed outsourcing libraries to a private company. That’s an option as county supervisors look for ways to trim the budget. “I think it’ll definitely put the word out to people that don’t really realize the negative impacts in privatization and they’ll definitely be able to get a little more information about how that’s going to effect their community,” said Jair Romero, library supporter. Kern Golden Empire

NC: As other cities protest, Charlotte leaders quietly accept terms of I-77 toll lane deal. While there has been a growing furor over the noncompete clause in the state’s contract to build toll lanes on Interstate 77, the city of Charlotte has stayed on the sidelines and hasn’t criticized the project. . . . The N.C. Department of Transportation said Thursday it’s moving forward with the project’s May 27 financial close with the developer, I-77 Mobility Partners. The controversy is over a 50-year noncompete clause that’s part of the contract. After the toll lanes are finished in 2018, the DOT would likely have to pay the developer compensation if it builds new free lanes on the highway. Charlotte Observer

NC: Pro-privatization money behind bills to boost N.C. charter schools. Charter schools have experienced rapid growth in North Carolina in recent years after state lawmakers lifted a cap limiting their numbers. Now the General Assembly is considering legislation that could boost the finances of the schools, which are public but independently run — increasingly by private, for-profit companies — and don’t have to adhere to all the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Charters have a mixed record on academic achievement and have been shown to lead to increased segregation. Facing South

IA: Iowans rally to keep mental health institutions open. Two of Iowa’s four state-run mental health institutions are set to close in six months.Dozens gathered in Mount Pleasant today to protest the governor’s decision to privatize mental health care. . . . Protestors on Saturday had the support of Senator Thomas Courtney. He says he is pushing to change this at the capitol. “This is a mental health thing and it’s quality of care. The care here happens to be excellent and it happens to be organized labor, but the point of the matter is we need good care for Iowans who need mental health,” said the senator. If doors close, the biggest fear is that patients will wind up in prison and not get the care they need. KWQC-TV6




May 14, 2015


House Republicans Aim to Cut Amtrak Funding the Day After Philadelphia Derailment. The House Appropriations committee already had plans to mark up a bill on Wednesday that would, among other things, cut funding to Amtrak from $1.4 billion to $1.14 billion. (Britain, for the record, spends $8 billion annually on its rail network.). . . .President Richard Nixon created Amtrak in 1970 to boost passenger rail service, but he made it a for-profit corporation. That’s the cause of many its political troubles today. Amtrak has never been able to turn a profit, and Republicans—who favor a fully privatized rail system—are loath to spend taxpayer dollars on a money-losing operations. They have repeatedly threatened to slash federal funding for Amtrak, which has struggled to make do with what Congress gives it. In an annual report to Congress from February, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman described “critical infrastructure stressed to the breaking-point” that result in “frequent service meltdowns . . . And yet, rail safety has improved in the last decade. The Huffington Post notes that accidents in 2014 were down 42 percent since 2006. Meanwhile, Amtrak ridership on the Northeast corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C., hit an all-time high in 2014. New Republic

Lack of Oversight of Charter Schools Designed as a Plus; $3.3+ Billion Spent (Part 2). “The waste of taxpayer money—none of us can feel good about,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Education just last month. Yet, he is calling for a 48% increase in the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) quarter-billion-dollar-a-year ($253.2 million) program designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools—an initiative repeatedly criticized by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls. PR Watch

FL: 9 Investigates toll collection company problems. SunRail rider Danny Delay said he has experienced a problem with the magnetic strip on the back of his SunRail card. . . Months after 9 Investigates discovered nearly 600 logged complaints about the ticket machines and promises by Xerox to get the system fixed by early 2015, state officials said the company has yet to deliver on the promise. . . .The contract is valued at $600 million. . . .The problems with Xerox go beyond SunRail and central Florida. The Texas Department of Transportation has problems with its toll collections run by Xerox. Texas officials reported 3.5 million toll transactions that were not processed on time and fined Xerox nearly $180,000. . . . . When Asa asked Turnpike Enterprise representatives whether they took into account the problems SunRail has experienced and if they were aware of toll collection problems in other parts of the country: the response was short. “The department looks at company history,” they said.

VA: Women launch website targeting Express Lane fines. Two Northern Virginia women profiled on WTOP have come together to launch a new website to protest the fines and penalties on the Express Lanes. In some cases, the fines can be thousands of dollars. . . . “Basically what they did is they took the HOV law and copied it over to the HOT (high occupancy toll) Lanes statute. But when you commit an HOV violation, a trooper pulls you over and writes you a ticket. You know you’ve committed a violation and if you do it again, the fines go up. You don’t know that on the HOT Lanes,” says Cooley. She points out that since there are neither red light indicators, nor toll booths, there is no notice given on the roadway about a violation compared to the HOV system. . . . Transurban now caps the judgement it seeks in court for first-time offenders to $2,200 plus court costs, and offers to waive fees if the person resolves the problem and works with Transurban from the outset. But Cooley and Comras believe $2,200 plus court costs is still too much. They think there are some common sense solutions. WTOP

TX: SH 130 Toll Road, Long Dormant, Seeing Strong Boost in Traffic, Toll Revenue. The State Highway 130 toll road between Interstate 10 east of San Antonio and Georgetown north of Austin, once considered the poster child for Texas’ failed ‘public private’ toll road partnerships, is turning around its performance. . . . . The growing success of the SH 130 project is expected to pump new life into the idea of merging TxDOT and other state agencies with private developers which can build toll roads quickly, as opposed to waiting for state funding to come on line for construction of badly needed highways. 1200 WOAI

May 13, 2015


Report Questions Constitutionality of Privatization of US Air Traffic Control. Proposals to have a private, nonprofit corporation take over the federal air-traffic control system “may be unconstitutional,” according to a Congressional Research Service Report released on Tuesday. Requested by Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who opposes such initiatives, the study says CRS experts couldn’t reach “a definitive conclusion without reviewing specific legislation.” But the report cites “specific constitutional concerns” relating to “core elements” of privatization initiatives, including establishing fees and overseeing modernization of the Federal Aviation Administration’s current traffic-control network. Wall Street Journal

IL: State OKs new Toll Road operator with improvements promised. The Indiana Finance Authority gave its blessing Tuesday to the Australian consortium that expects to take over as operator of the Indiana Toll Road on May 27. . . . The state is not receiving any additional income from the transfer. Indiana collected $3.8 billion when it agreed to lease the previously money-losing highway for 75 years to an Australian and Spanish partnership that later failed to meet its debt payments. . . . Daley announced IFM plans to spend $260 million over the next five years to improve the Toll Road, including $138 million for new pavement, increased spending on bridge and ramp replacement and maintenance, installation of dynamic message signs to warn of closures and road hazards, along with $34 million for new travel plazas. He said replacing the dilapidated rest stops is part of the company’s goal to improve customer service and ultimately “reset” the Toll Road for motorists and neighboring communities.

LA: Report slams Louisiana charter school oversight. Louisiana understaffs its charter schools oversight offices and, instead of proactively investigating these schools, relies on charters’ own reports and whistleblowers to uncover problems, according to a report released Tuesday (May 12) by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Coalition for Community Schools. That allows theft, cheating and mismanagement to happen, such as the $26,000 stolen from Lake Area New Tech High and the years of special education violations alleged at Lagniappe Academies. The report also casts a skeptical eye on the veracity of the data that Louisiana uses to calculate the performance scores that keep charters open and determine their renewal terms.

LA: Hospital privatization: Is it working in Louisiana?. . . Speaking broadly there are two main issues: greater access to care and money—as i—is the state saving any? “We’re saying we saved the state money,” said State Senator Greg Tarver, “personally I don’t believe we’re going to save any money. It might save a dollar, but I doubt that very seriously.”. . . “Our Department of health and Hospitals testified,” said Kennedy, “that they did not have the ability to discern whether our new public/private partnerships were saving us money of costing us money. I couldn’t believe they said that.” KTBS

May 12, 2015


Feds Spent $3.3 Billion Fueling Charter Schools but No One Knows What It’s Really Bought. Despite the huge sums spent so far, the federal government maintains no comprehensive list of the charter schools that have received and spent these funds or even a full list of the private or quasi-public entities that have been approved by states to “authorize” charters that receive federal funds. And despite drawing repeated criticism from the Office of the Inspector General for suspected waste and inadequate financial controls within the federal Charter Schools Program – designed to create, expand, and replicate charter schools – the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is poised to increase its funding by 48% in FY 2016. Truth-Out

Support Builds to Redo US Air-Traffic System. A push to radically reshape the outmoded U.S. air-traffic control system is gaining support, as airlines and some labor unions join to back change and a top lawmaker drafts legislation that could effectively privatize services. . . , The AFL-CIO’s Transport Trades Department, a coalition of unions whose members work in aviation, has said it’s willing to consider changes but strongly opposes any privatization plans that involve a for-profit corporation or shifting FAA employees to a private entity. Still, the increasing momentum has persuaded even some veteran Washington players that major change could be near. “The atmosphere is very different,” said James Burnley, who served as deputy secretary and then secretary of the Transportation Department in the 1980s. Mr. Burnley, a proponent of recasting the FAA’s role for three decades, believes Rep. Shuster’s gambit is a viable option. “This is the first time I am cautiously optimistic systemic reform can occur,” he said. Wall Street Journal ($)

CA: Majority Against Nestle California Water Bottling. As Californians are required to cut water consumption, and the state scrambles to respond to the draught crisis, Nestle continues to bottle millions of gallons of water from local aquifers.   Activists wielding pitchforks temporarily shut down the plant during a March 20th protest, as part of an ongoing protest against the bottling. A video interview by Nestle Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has exacerbated public disapproval. In the interview he spoke in favor of privatizing water like any other foodstuff, and giving it a market value. Most Americans (78%) are aware of the draught in California, according to a recent YouGov Omnibus survey, and 63% support the mandatory water restrictions imposed by California Governor Jerry Brown. 74% of Americans believe that water should be a human right, and 65% agreed that Nestle should stop using California water to create bottled water. Forbes

IA: Iowa mental health care moves toward privatization. Two state mental health facilities slated to close this summer would remain open for a few months before switching to private care, under a proposal announced Friday with Gov. Terry Branstad’s support. . . . Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, was wary of the announcement “Outsourcing the services provided by these facilities is not needed because the existing workers are experienced and providing high quality mental health services. “There is no valid reason for the governor to outsource these facilities unless his emphasis is on cutting costs by severely limiting services.” Daily Gate

NY: High number of expulsions at Western New York Maritime Charter School draw questions. . . Western New York Maritime Charter School is either one of the most successful charters in Buffalo or one of the most controversial, depending on who you ask and how you view their data.. . . .That makes Maritime most susceptible to the criticism often lobbed by traditional public school advocates against charter schools: these independent schools excel because they have the freedom to throw out troublemakers and underachievers or persuade them to leave. “Kids with discipline issues either are not accepted or are immediately told to leave,” said Larry Scott, a school psychologist in the Kenmore-Tonawanda school district and co-chairman of the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization. “Here you’re taking money from a traditional school district and sending those kids back to a traditional public school or not accepting them at all.” Buffalo News

PA: Teachers: Lawmakers Holding School Budget Hostage to Threaten Pensions. Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, says now Republican leaders in the state Senate are telling the press they won’t pass a budget until public employee pensions are privatized and benefits are cut. “This is a manufactured crisis,” Crossey says. “They want to hold children and school funding hostage so they can destroy the pension system that provides retirement security for over half a million Pennsylvanians.” Senate Bill One is designed to push new public employees out of the traditional pension plan and put them into 401K style plans. Crossey says it also would cut current benefits, which he says is probably unconstitutional because it’s a breach of contract. But Crossey says the basic problem is a debt issue, not a pension issue. Public News Service

NH: NH budget is bad policy – opinion. Why prison privatization is bad policy: A broad coalition of prison reformers worked for three years to keep profit-making prisons from taking over adult corrections. Opponents included half a dozen national advocacy groups . . .It is well documented that private prisons cherry pick the easiest prisoners, then underpay their officers. The result is crowded, violent institutions that usually cost taxpayers more money than government prisons. A consulting report on the competing bids to build and run New Hampshire prisons warned that the bidders would understaff their cellblocks. They would have high personnel turnover and position vacancy rates. Make no mistake, the industry has deep pockets, and it wants a foothold here. Foster’s Daily Democrat

LA: Sidney Torres IV invests more than $300000 for private French Quarter security . . . Torres said he has spent more than $300,000 building what he believes is a better mousetrap for French Quarter protection, one he now wants the city to pony up to keep going even as he keeps his hand on the day-to-day operations. The French Quarter Task Force of privately paid police details on Polaris carts, driven by residents and businesses reporting crime via a smartphone app, is just one part of a complex web of security initiatives pieced together in recent months from just about every public and private agency and funding source imaginable. The New Orleans Advocate



May 11, 2015


The new debtors prisons: Pennsylvania mother dies while jailed for truancy fines. If you thought debtors prison was something straight out of Charles Dickens—and something long ago left behind us—think again. Debtors prison is becoming very much a part of the American prison-industrial complex, and on Saturday, a Pennsylvania mother of seven died there: Eileen DiNino, 55, of Reading, was found dead in a jail cell Saturday, halfway through a 48-hour sentence that would have erased about $2,000 in fines and court costs. The debt had accrued since 1999, and involved several of her seven children, most recently her boys at a vocational high school….. While dying in jail over truancy fees may be rare, going to jail over truancy fees is all too common, and it disproportionately hits women.  Daily Kos

Keep America’s public lands in public hands. Polls consistently show that Americans care about public lands and the environment and nowhere is that more true than in the very states where some state and federal lawmakers are targeting our outdoor heritage. A recent bipartisan survey by Colorado College shows that 96 percent of the voters in six Western states said protecting public lands for future generations is a priority and favor ensuring access to those lands for recreation. Despite this strong public support, state legislatures throughout the Rocky Mountain West have spent the last several weeks and taxpayers’ money debating proposals that would harm wildlife, our public lands, and the local economies that depend on hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, and tourism. The Hill (blog)

DeGroot: Federal land transfer: The downside of local control. . . History strongly suggests that state and local control would result in more self-serving land management decisions. Profitable activities like oil and gas drilling, timber harvest and cattle grazing would likely proliferate at the expensive of less profitable activities such as recreation.mIn addition to the increased for-profit activities, land sales would likely spike. Many transfer proponents assert that privatization is not their main goal. They ask the public to “trust” them on this. History portends a different outcome. For example, the State of Nevada has sold almost all of the 2.7 million acres of state lands it was granted at statehood. Also, most public land in the eastern United States has been sold. With many state and local governments under pressure to produce additional revenue, it is hard to “trust” that significant acreage would not be privatized.mWith the combination of more for-profit activities and an unstoppable trend toward privatization, recreational opportunities for millions of Americans would be lost forever. Casper Star-Tribune Online

The Financial Road to Ruin. . . The Colorado toll road is of particular importance. The 50 year contract, covering 18 miles, was approved by the Senate on 20 February 2014. Under the terms of the contract, the Colorado Senators and Representatives were not allowed to read the contract prior to signing, or to amend or vote on the contract. Goldman Sachs is not spending a dime funding the project, instead the $552 million is pocketed from tax payer dollars, while the company will secretly profit from hiked up toll charges. The challenges are monumental but futile unless there is a political will, to stand against corporations buying their way out of justice. CounterPunch

Letting deadly bosses off the hook. . . They’ve launched a new coalition — the so-called “Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation” — to gut our nation’s workers compensation program by allowing companies to opt out of it. . . . Workers comp insurance is a social contract between injured employees, who give up the right to sue their companies for negligence, and employers, who pay for insurance to cover a basic level of medical benefits and wages for those harmed on the job. Administered by state governments, benefits vary, and they usually fall far short of meeting the full needs of the injured people. But the program has at least provided a measure of help to assuage the suffering of millions. But even that’s too much for these avaricious, multibillion-dollar corporations. Why pay for insuring employees when it’s much cheaper to buy state legislators who are willing to privatize workers’ comp? This lets corporations write their own rules of compensation to slash benefits and cut safety costs — and earn thieving CEOs bigger bonuses. The Star Democrat

TX: Texas toll roads could be a thing of the past. Rep. Joe Pickett has introduced a bill that would begin the elimination process of toll roads in Texas. Pickett said that the reason the bill is important is because there have been toll roads popping up all over the state. “The purpose is to end the toll lanes and the number could be quite, quite large but we’ve never gone through the process so it hasn’t been looked at as to what the possibilities are going into the future,” Pickett said. Pickett said drivers are experiencing “toll road fatigue” and he believes it is time to go back to the pay-as-you-go The Cesar Chavez toll road opened its lanes in January of last year and it was billed as the quicker commute. KFOX El Paso

TX: Arlington, Texas Voters Dump Cameras And Pro-Camera Mayor. Anti-camera activistsVoters in Arlington, Texas took matters in their own hands Saturday and outlawed the use of red light cameras. The ballot proposition terminating the city’s photo ticketing program was adopted with 60 percent of the vote. By nearly the same margin, voters also ejected pro-camera Mayor Robert Cluck in favor of Jeff Williams, a staunch opponent of automated ticketing machines. . . . American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the private company in charge of the photo ticketing program, had done everything in its power in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to sway the public into accepting cameras. Through a series of front groups, the firm hired outsiders at $18 an hour to give the appearance of grassroots support for photo ticketing. The firm also paid for flyers to be mailed to residents describing the recent death of a woman killed by a red light runner.

LA: Louisiana healthcare on the state budget chopping block . . . The decision by House leaders to fund higher education next year means that the state’s health care system is at least $200 million short of the money needed to keep providing the current level of service for patients. That not only is putting at risk a health care system that already ranks among the worst in the country but also threatens the agreements Gov. Bobby Jindal made with private companies to manage Louisiana’s public hospitals. Rupturing those deals would cause havoc with health care for poor children and their mothers, the developmentally disabled, the working poor who don’t have health insurance and the elderly living in state nursing homes — and that would cause a ripple effect throughout the entire health care system. The Advocate

IN: Dunes pavilion plan draws criticism. Construction crews are already at work turning an 85-year-old pavilion serving as a beachfront snack shack and shower house on Indiana Dunes State Park into a restaurant and, eventually, a two-floor banquet and conference hall. . . . But the plan, which includes a minimum 35-year lease with a private company, has outraged local opponents. They say they’re deeply troubled by an agreement the state quietly finalized this winter with a group of local developers. They say it lines their pockets at the expense of the environment and the public, and could open the door to a future marina or a hotel at one of Indiana’s most fragile natural landscapes. State officials say there’s no other development plans in the works. Local opponents, who urge the state to put the project on hold for further review, got a boost Friday when an array of statewide environmental and consumer-advocacy groups joined their cause. Indianapolis Star

OK: The Privatization of Oklahoma (Outsourcing Oklahoma Dollars). In recent years at the Legislature we have privatized one entity at a time. We have private prisons, and we have been sending Oklahoma dollars out of state to virtual private schools. Skiatook Journal ($)