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