August 18, 2015

Smoke and Mirrors Lie Behind Balanced-Budget Rhetoric. There are few things more creative than a state government in dire financial straits, which is to say most of them. States are well versed in all manner of financial chicanery, from simple accounting gimmicks to pushing off payments. . . . Privatization is among the most dangerous short-term fixes. Conservatives often tout privatization – converting government assets or functions over to the private sector – as a way to capture some of that good old private sector efficiency. Whether that is in fact true is dubious, but in practice privatization often means auctioning off state assets for some quick cash. Toll roads and state parkland are what has classically been privatized, though Ohio Gov. John Kasich pioneered prison sales. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker plans to sell the state’s power and heating plants without a competitive bidding process. TruthOut

Bush: Privatize More Veterans Care, Boost Active Forces.Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush wants to privatize more veterans care, make it easier to fire federal employees found responsible for poor treatment and overhaul the Pentagon to prioritize an increase in the number of active troops. . . . Bush, who has not serve in any military capacity, proposed that all 9 million veterans in VA care programs be free to choose doctors and other providers outside the VA system. Choice always yields “better outcomes,” Bush argued. Congress has already appropriated $10 billion over three years to allow flexibility for VA patients who cannot get an appointment within 30 days or who live 40 miles or more from a VA health facility. ABC News

As Toll Roads Expand, Freeways Risk Becoming a Passageway of the Privileged. In the future, travel on freeways will become more of a privilege than a right. As traffic congestion becomes the norm, toll roads will continue to become an expensive ticket to escape traffic jams. RYOT

IL: Emanuel moves to prevent repeat of infamous Chicago parking meter fiasco. It’s been a long time coming. Those iconic song lyrics came to mind a couple weeks ago, when Mayor Emanuel finally introduced a much-anticipated ordinance designed to protect city residents and taxpayers from another privatization fiasco like the parking meter abomination. To refresh your memory, the Daley administration sold the city’s parking meters to a private company in 2008 for more than a billion dollars in a bang-bang deal that violated multiple good government tenets: Aldermen had just two days to consider the transaction, so there wasn’t time for public hearings or due diligence; the profits were quickly spent on one-time budget fixes; and the cash-starved city was excluded from any future parking revenue beyond fines for meter violations. It was bad public policy and poor fiscal management. Reboot Illinois

TN: Haslam administration moves on privatizing management of state university buildings. Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is quietly moving to privatize the management and operations of the facilities of all state colleges and universities and the remaining state government buildings not already outsourced to the multinational property management giant Jones Lang LaSalle. . . News of the discussion was given to physical plant employees at UT Knoxville in an Employee Relations Council meeting last week, according to United Campus Workers, which represents campus facilities employees at some state colleges and universities. The group said “the dizzying scope of the RFI threatens to affect public services and tens of thousands of jobs across every county in Tennessee.” Memphis Commercial Appeal

August 17, 2015

Social Security Still Strong at 80. . . Despite such a strong record, Social Security is under attack from profiteers and their political allies who claim it will not be around when people retire and is in need of drastic reform. A myth, says the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) since “Social Security is fully funded through 2033. Even if nothing is done to shore up the system, Social Security can continue to pay three-fourths of promised benefits after the trust fund runs out. Though this would be far from ideal, it’s certainly no reason to preemptively cut benefits.” A decrease in Social Security benefits would leave over half of elderly Americans in poverty, hitting African Americans, Latinos and women the hardest. . . Because Social Security is such a large public sector program, with almost $3 trillion in reserves, Wall Street has long wanted to get its hands on it. Various proposals to privatize or partially privatize the program would allow investment firms to run up fees for every transaction, profiting off of retirees and making the program vulnerable to economic crashes.  PR Watch

Jeb Bush Doesn’t Support Privatizing Social Security, But Wants To Cut It In Other Ways. Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said on Friday that he does not want to privatize Social Security the way his brother unsuccessfully attempted to do in 2005, but does support raising the retirement age. . . . Bush has previously expressed interest in raising the age for Social Security eligibility to 68 or 70 — something for which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has pounced on him. The former Florida governor has also expressed an openness to “means-testing,” which would reduce benefits for high-income seniors. Critics say such an approach would lead to poor retirement planning and discourage people from working past the age when they are eligible for benefits. Huffington Post

EPA’s Colorado Mine Spill is all about Privatizing Profits and Socializing Cleanup. . . . By now you’ve heard the basics – there was a gold mine loaded with toxic water, it was leaking thousands of gallons a day (already creating a deadzone downstream), the Environmental Protection Agency went in to try and clean things up and inadvertently sent a flood of ugly brown sludge down the Animas River into Colorado and Utah. But what was the EPA doing there in the first place? The reason the EPA has to go in and inspect and regulate and fine and oversee is because deadbeat companies are perfectly happy sucking the profits out of mines and factories and power plants, but when it comes time to clean up the mess they made… they’re perfectly happy to walk away. Wipe their hands, send out one last round of bonuses and dividends, then declare bankruptcy and evaporate into thin air, leaving YOU AND ME holding the bag of the cleanup costs. Privatize profits, socialize the cleanup. Great if you’re a shareholder or owner. Sucks for the rest of us. Red, Green, and Blue

NY: The Politics of Road Pricing: Andrew Cuomo vs. Actual Polls. Andrew Cuomo styles himself as a guy who gets stuff done. That’s what muscling through the Tappan Zee Bridge double-span boondoggle and the multi-billion dollar LaGuardia renovation is all about. But when reporters ask Cuomo about funding transit by putting a price on NYC’s free bridges, he likes to portray himself as a helpless bystander, stymied by politics. Quinnipiac poll results released this morning again show that public resistance to a toll swap as envisioned in the Move NY plan (higher tolls on East River bridges, lower ones on outlying MTA crossings) is not nearly as deep as Cuomo makes it out to be. The survey of 1,108 NYC voters found 44 support Move NY-style toll reform to fund transit, while 49 percent oppose, replicating the findings of a poll this May. Streetsblog New York (blog)

KS: Kansas launches advertising campaign in effort to boost child support collections. The Department for Children and Families hopes to bring in millions of dollars in new child support collections through an advertising campaign that will urge businesses to report new hires for collection purposes. . . . The advertising campaign comes after Kansas privatized its child support collection system in 2013. After the first year of privatization, Kansas did a worse job collecting current child support than before privatization — and the percentage of current support collected stood at a 14-year low. Topeka Capital Journal

SC: State moves to privatize its home health services. The state plans to privatize its 50-year-old home health program, saying it’s been losing money for the past three years. The service provides skilled nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, medical social services, home health aides, and care and education for respiratory and other diseases to people who’ve been in the hospitalized or have temporary or chronic health problems. Greenville News

MA: Deal to privatize MBTA station debuts with shortfalls. Just months after signing a $32 million deal to have the real estate giant Boston Properties upgrade the station, the Department of Transportation has agreed to cover six-figure shortfalls in rent from vendors and pay potentially big sums for structural repairs. . . . In June, as Boston Properties prepared to take over the station, it told the MBTA it had found “deficiencies” in expansion joints in the concourse, according to an amended lease the parties signed Aug. 1. Boston Properties said it would cover the gaps in the expansion joints, which could be a hazard to pedestrians. . . .In the amended lease, the state agreed to pay Boston Properties $100,000 within 10 days for the rent shortfall, with additional payments following each month. The parties also agreed to set aside $1 million from Boston Properties’ $32 million budget to fix the expansion joints, with the MBTA covering any costs beyond that. Boston Globe

TX: Private toll road picks up speed south of Austin. A rural Texas toll road run by a private company is adding traffic faster than a companion segment operated by the state Department of Transportation. . .. But a critic of the private-toll venture says a lack of financial data leaves a murky picture. “This does not show revenue, nor does it show what is owed to the (toll road’s) lender so that we can determine if this number of transactions is sufficient to keep them in the black. That’s the true bottom line — how much revenue do they owe versus how much are they collecting?” said Terri Hall, president of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. “Solvency, not transactions, is the key evaluator.”

TX: Study: Time to rethink truckers’ use, non-use of Texas toll road. Texas officials have for years tried to get more trucks off of I-35 and on to the SH 130 toll road in the Austin area. Their theory is that trucks play a significant role in the congestion problems on the interstate. A new study of truckers’ reasons for avoiding the toll road, however, reveals that trucks are just 1 percent of the through traffic in the region. . . . A breakdown of the numbers shows what they’re talking about, and it shows something else – that maybe it’s the cars the officials need to be incentivizing to use the toll road. Land Line Magazine

August 10, 2015

Privatize the VA? Senators Get Behind a Radical Program for Vets that Could Cost Billions. . . The bill, unveiled just before the Senate left town for a month, surprised many in the veteran’s community and raised the possibility that the GOP-controlled Congress might look to put more of a burden on the VA to pay for private health care for veterans. . . An official for one of the country’s top veteran’s service organizations warned that McCain’s bill “could be a very, very expensive proposition.” The Fiscal Times

Corizon Health Services Breaks Second Death Settlement Record This Year. 2015 has been a big year for Corizon Health Services: in the span of six months, the nation’s largest for-profit inmate healthcare provider has managed to break not one, but two different state records for the largest wrongful death settlement payouts in history. On August 6, Corizon and Lane County in Oregon announced they would pay a combined $7 million to the family of Kelly Green — a 28-year-old mentally ill inmate who died from a major spinal injury after a psychotic episode at the local jail. Green broke his neck and became paralyzed after running headfirst into a concrete wall one day after he was arrested in February 2013. . . .County officials maintain Corizon misdiagnosed Green’s injury and failed to take him to the hospital for six hours. He became quadriplegic and ventilator-dependent for ten months before he passed. ShadowProof

Stemming the tide of injustice in the surfing industry. . . Surfers have some history of coming together around issues of importance to themselves and the sport. For example, in 2012 a group of surfers launched the Save Trestles Campaign in order to stop plans to build a toll road through the protected wetlands – and prized surf locale – of Trestles in San Onofre, California. Discussions of the toll road had been underway for decades, and throughout that time surfers came together and initiated small actions to make barriers for the Transportation Corridor Agency, which was leading the road planning. Through popularization of the campaign under Surfrider, surfers were able to put an end to the toll road talks once and for all – preserving important ecosystems, and uniting around a cause that was important for, but much bigger than surfing. Oxfam America

FL: Guest Column Ed Slavin: Privatizing public resources is a growing threat to livability. St. Augustine Foundation walled off our Spanish Garden in 2001. You can enjoy our statue of Queen Isabella only one day annually. Burghers hounded our street artists, attacking cherished First Amendment rights, for decades. Our City embarrassed us in the eyes of the world, repeatedly losing First Amendment lawsuits. Meanwhile, our once-lively downtown is now a T-shirt shop. Another federal lawsuit is pending because city hall still deprecates tourism worker rights. St. Augustine Record

NC: Ex-head of NC’s public-private economic development group got $30K bonus to stay, left three months later. . . Richard Lindenmuth, a Raleigh business executive, was selected in January 2014 to get the largely publicly-funded Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina off the ground. He had specialized in helping troubled companies but had no prior economic development experience. . . . The privatization of the state’s job recruitment strategies, which proponents say allow for more aggressive and effective job recruitment, has encountered accountability issues in some states that have taken similar approaches. . . . He submitted a resignation that was effective as of March 31, less than three months after he received the $30,000 stay bonus, according to Mary Wilson, a spokeswoman for the agency. . . . In all, Lindenmuth received $71,770 for his three months of consulting work in 2015 – the $30,000 stay bonus, $35,538 in regular pay and $6,231 for accrued time off. Progressive Pulse           

MI: Lansing schools privatization plan drawing criticism from union. . . On Thursday night, prior to the administration’s recommendation, Mark Troisi, a daytime custodian at Holt Public Schools, advised the board to consider his district’s privatization experience. He said his district has been slowly privatizing custodial services for some time, and the differences are profound. “Our experience has been one of high turnover, a lack of training and substantially poorer conditions,” he said. Because of low wages, many contracted staff have a low regard for their work, he said, and it’s reflected in the cleanliness of the district’s buildings. Under Lansing’s plan, the union employees in attendance would keep their jobs and seniority, but would lose access to state-sponsored pensions in transitioning to SodexoMAGIC, Hamilton said. Those perilously close to reaching full benefit status, including many who’ve worked for the district for decades, have the most to lose from privatization, he said. Lansing State Journal

NC: Key vote pending on toll lane construction plan. Opponents of toll lanes on Interstate 77, as well as on other highways, have turned their attention to an Aug. 19 vote of a regional transportation planning group, which must endorse a 10-year construction plan for the toll projects to move forward. . . The DOT has said it would cost up to $100 million to break its contract with I-77 Mobility Partners, the private developer, to build the toll roads. A bill filed in the N.C. House last week would make Mecklenburg County, as well as the towns of Mooresville, Davidson, Huntersville and Cornelius, pay for the penalty over a five-year period. Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio has said being forced to pay the cancellation penalty could have a “detrimental” impact on the county’s budget. Charlotte Observer

NJ: Troubled Newark charter school to stay shut, court rules. A Newark charter school shut down by the state two years ago—citing its poor academic record and alleged conflicts of interest involving its controversial founder—will stay shut, a state appeals court has ruled.


August 7, 2015

VA Chief Blasts ‘Political’ Proposal to Privatize the Department. Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Thursday rejected criticism from a political advocacy group that has called for privatizing the department. . . . “First of all, you have to understand the political nature of the Concerned Veterans for America,” McDonald said. “I’ve met with [CVA Chief Executive Officer] Peter Hegseth many times. I know the people that back him politically, who fund his organization. We are not in favor of privatizing the VA.” The secretary didn’t go into detail, though his reference to those supporting the group likely refers to reports that it has largely been funded by Koch Brothers’ organizations.

How Jeb Bush Spent His Years on Wall Street… Around the time of his 2008 Mexico City trip, Mr. Bush was on the board of a Lehman fund pursuing investments in toll roads and other public works. His successor, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, in the months after Mr. Bush left office, had signed a bill allowing the state to lease some toll roads, including a stretch of interstate 75, known as Alligator Alley. Mr. Bush studied documents and advised Lehman executives on the deal, as well as the state’s political pitfalls, according to people familiar with the discussions. Mr. Bush brought lots of energy and “creative problem-solving skills” to Lehman, said Emil Henry, a former executive with the firm who has been active in GOP politics. Wall Street Journal ($)

RI: Public or Private: Are RI Charter Schools Trying to Have it Both Ways? Their teachers are not unionized. They don’t pay into public pensions. And they are exempted from some of the rules that apply to traditional public schools. But they are funded by taxpayer dollars, are free of charge to students attending, and cannot expel students. Are charter schools public schools or publicly funded private schools? Charter advocates say it’s the first. GoLocalProv

LA: “Reform” makes broken New Orleans schools worse. Here is all you need to know about the New Orleans schools before Hurricane Katrina hit, 10 years ago this summer: They were awful. The schools were awful, the school board was awful, the central office was awful—all of them were awful. At a recent conference held to tout the progress made by the schools here since Katrina, Scott Cowan, an early proponent of the all-charter-school model that exists here now, described New Orleans’ pre-storm schools as mired in “unprecedented dysfunction.” In other words, they were awful. Salon

LA: Jindal Medicaid privatization effort stalls. . .The administration already has contracted with private managers to handle the medical and behavioral health components of the state’s $8 billion Medicaid program. The long-term care portion would have been the third and final installment of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s privatization of the government insurance program for the poor. . . .The state’s powerful nursing home industry sought to exempt itself. Advocates for the elderly and disabled wanted them included, hoping that dollars would be shifted to more home- and community-based services where there are long waiting lists. he industry’s objections had stalled release of a request for proposal that would seek a private company to manage care for some 72,000 people who are getting their care in either institutional or home-based settings. The New Orleans Advocate

IL: Bruce Rauner is Using a Manufactured Crisis to Bust Unions, Privatize Services and Destroy Pensions. . . If you like Scott Walker, you’ll love Bruce Rauner. In February, Rauner issued an executive order blocking public employee unions from collecting “fair share” fees, or payments from non-union members who nonetheless benefit from collective bargaining done on their behalf. The order is intended to decimate public employee unions, not just in Illinois, but across the nation. As unions rightfully fight the executive order, Rauner hopes the case will make it to the Supreme Court, where following last years Harris v. Quinn ruling, many experts believe conservative justices may be poised to strike down fair share fees nation wide.  That was just an opening foray. Now Rauner is using the budget crisis to blackmail legislators into supporting his anti-worker policies. He refuses to raise revenue unless the state legislature, Cook County and municipalities across the state bow to his anti-union, destabilizing “turnaround agenda.” He has also created and funded two different PACs to lavish money on lawmakers who support his agenda, while punishing those who stand against it.   In These Times

FL: Protesters oppose North Miami Beach plan to privatize trash hauling. . . Dozens of protesters in green shirts voiced their opposition to the City Council’s recent vote to negotiate a contract with a private company, Waste Management of Florida, to handle trash hauling in the city. Hand-written signs compared privatization to “corruption” and displayed the words, “I Am a Man.” “We’ve been working for the city for so long and something has to be done,” said Daniel Pierre, a resident and 12-year sanitation employee. “If the residents speak, I think they’re supposed to listen to us.” . . . Residents, employees and local union workers said at the meeting that the city should place a higher priority on the jobs than the proposed financial savings. Miami Herald

MA: Charter-school proponents petition to put expansion measure on 2016 ballot. Charter school proponents filed a petition Wednesday for a ballot measure that would authorize the creation or expansion of up to a dozen charter schools statewide each year. The measure would direct state education officials to give priority to applications in the lowest-performing 25 percent of school districts and those with long waiting lists for charter seats. It would restrict the growth of seats to no more than 1 percent of student enrollment statewide. . . .Thomas Gosnell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts, said the union would oppose charter expansion. He said charters take funding from district budgets and are disproportionately built in underfunded urban districts that serve greater numbers of English-language learners and students with special needs. “An expansion of the charter school cap would draw even more money away from the regular public schools, where, of course, the overwhelming number of the students in Massachusetts go,” Gosnell said. Boston Globe

WI: Assembly speaker packs new education task force with school privatization supporters. A newly created “task force on urban education” features members hand-picked by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who have benefited from campaign contributions and heavy spending by pro-private school voucher special interests, according to advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. Under Vos, the state Assembly dramatically expanded the unaccountable private school voucher program, stripped local control to facilitate school privatization and killed efforts to require equity in accountability between public schools and state subsidized private voucher and charter schools. WEAC

NJ: Christie Suggests Teachers Should Be “Punched In The Face.” Teacher Takes Him Up On It. Eager to score points with the Republican base voter while he wastes his state’s tax dollars on a futile campaign for the Presidency, the pile of toxic waste that calls himself Chris Christie lambasted teacher’s unions on Sunday, volunteering in an interview that teacher’s unions should be “punched in the face.”. . . However, the most effective response came today from an actual teacher, who offered to take Christie up on his blowhard threat. . . . “I am well qualified for the job. I have been a public school teacher and administrator for 45 years. I have been the president and the chief negotiator of my local teachers union. I have been sharply critical of Christie’s education policies on my blog. I deserve that punch in the face. I have earned it .” . . The demonization of unions, including teacher’s unions, is a primary piece of the warped puzzle that makes up the Republican Party’s agenda, one dear to the New Jersey Governor’s heart, that seeks to privatize the public school system and turn education into a profit venture for the hedge-funds who are backing his campaign. DailyKos

CO: Denver says up to 180 jobs at risk in outsourcing of workforce centers. . . City officials blame the coming layoffs in workforce development on a pending new requirement in last year’s federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The federal government is expected to require that operation of local workforce centers be competitively bid out to save on overhead costs, potentially freeing more money for training and employment-connection programs for job-seekers. But in deciding to privatize its workforce centers, Denver is making a choice that sets it apart from the state and some other metro-area counties. Faced with a similar choice, the state Department of Labor and Employment, which oversees 49 workforce centers in rural areas, has opted to compete with any private or nonprofit bidders to continue running them, a spokesman said. The Denver Post

August 4, 2015

Advanced Correctional HealthCare’s Brutal Brand of Jailhouse Medicine. This is part one of Gaming the System, Brian Sonenstein’s three-part series on the privatization of correctional healthcare, and the consequences for prisoners when cutting costs is more important than patient health. . . Advanced Correctional Healthcare was founded in 2002 by Dr. Norman Johnson. Based in Peoria, Illinois, ACH is a rising star within a multi-billion dollar-per-year, taxpayer-funded industry, contracting with local jails to provide inmate medical services. In 2012, ACH made $37.6 million. . . Central to ACH’s business model is the belief that what might be considered proper healthcare on the ‘outside’ should in some instances be deemed inappropriate on the ‘inside.’ Documents produced by the company for the Itasca County Sheriff’s office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for example, made clear “it is not the responsibility of the jail to supply care for general comfort illnesses such as mild acne, dandruff or dry skin.” “As a result,” ACH writes, “the key to any utilization program comes down to the decision to treat or not to treat a given complaint.” ShadowProof

The Pope, Civic Studies and Public Work. . . Pope Francis’ treatments of public work are full of insights. “A countless array of organizations…work to promote the common good and to defend the environment,” he writes. “Some show concern for a public place (a building, a fountain, an abandoned monument, a landscape, a square), and strive to protect, restore, improve, or beautify it as something belonging to everyone.” Such public work in his view reverses privatizing dynamics. “A community [engaged in such work] can break out of the indifference induced by consumerism. These actions cultivate a shared identity, with a story which can be remembered and handed on.” They also create a stake in those things tended to. Huffington Post

Commentary: Privatizing Medicare would create more problems than it solves. Republicans have long dreamed of finding a way to either privatize or get rid of Medicare, a program that has provided access to health care for well over 100 million Americans since it was created in 1965. As presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made clear a few days ago, that dream is still alive.…While a voucher program sounds appealing to those who believe a privatized system would be cheaper and more efficient than the current government-run Medicare, it almost certainly would eventually be more costly to taxpayers or return us to the days when many people 65 and older were out of luck. Center for Public Integrity

IL: Groups want hearing on Illiana tax breaks. A coalition of environmental groups and opponents of a proposed new toll road in Will County have requested a public hearing on a set of tax breaks being sought for the project. The Environmental Law & Policy Center helped lead a successful federal lawsuit seeking to block the $1.5 billion Illiana Expressway. It filed the request Wednesday after the Lee Enterprises Springfield bureau reported that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is seeking sales tax exemptions for building materials used in the on-again, off-again project. The tax breaks now pending before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules came as a surprise to opponents because Rauner suspended work on the 47-mile road earlier this year as part of a review of state spending.

FL: $600 million toll-road contract tied up by protest. The company hired by the state to create a $600 million program collecting money on every toll road in Florida had a dismal start running SunRail’s fare box, plus problems rolling out similar systems in two other states. Xerox State and Local Solutions last year was picked to track all the money paid by drivers on the more than 475 miles of Florida’s Turnpike, as well as the 109 miles operated by the Central Florida Expressway Authority. But protests from two losing bidders have stopped Xerox from starting. They contend the state unfairly awarded the contract, which could cover 14 years or more. Orlando Sentinel

TX: Texas voters will decide this fall on two transportation questions. If approved by voters this fall, Proposition 7 would authorize sales tax revenue to be used to aid non-toll road projects and to make payments on debt that the highway department has accumulated in recent years. Land Line Magazine

MI: Detroit school board alleges state discrimination, retaliation. The Detroit Public Schools’ elected board has filed a federal civil rights complaint against Governor Rick Snyder. . . . They include misspending public funds, violating the rights of special education students, and a general “pattern of discrimination, retaliation, [and] creating a hostile educational environment,” according to the complaint. . . The complaint also accuses Gov. Snyder of using the state’s emergency manager law to strip voting rights and power from local elected officials in some of the state’s majority-black school districts, creating “two separate and unequal school systems” across the state. It alleges a larger effort to “dismantle and privatize” DPS and other districts under state control. Michigan Radio

OH: Opposition Grows To Outsourcing Upper Arlington’s 911 Calls. . . But opponents worry that if calls are outsourced to Columbus they’ll be confronted by a time-consuming automated system, calls being placed on hold and that help will be delayed. Charlie Reed heads the Save UA 911 organization. “We firmly believe that response times are going to increase. Just the nature of a large call center, it’s a multistep process. And Upper Arlington is small and the call takers are the dispatchers. At a large center you have call takers separate from radio dispatchers. So right there is a two-step process when UA can make it a one step process, it’s very fast,” Reed says. WOSU Public Media


August 3, 2015

The White House is trying to introduce Wall Street to rural America. . .It’s a strategy that America’s cities have long embraced: Attracting private capital to finance public goods, because the government doesn’t have the cash up front to get them built. In rural areas, however, the USDA — which, if it were a bank, would rank among the nation’s largest — has customarily taken care of those needs through a liberal sprinkling of grants and loans. There’s less money for that kind of thing to go around these days, and in the absence of a large-scale federal infrastructure program, the backlog of needed upgrades and new facilities is immense. Start-up businesses, meanwhile, have a hard time getting off the ground without access to the kind of capital available in big cities on the coasts. So the federal government is asking private sector types to step into the breach, and trying to ease their way.  Washington Post (blog)

JIM HIGHTOWER: ‘Proud partners’ corporatize our parks. . . To his credit, Obama has proposed a 2016 “Centennial Budget” for Park Service, mitigating years of destructive underfunding and calling for $1 billion to address the backlog. Good for him. But that still leaves a $10 billion shortfall, and the sour duo of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner will oppose even that increase for the maintenance of these invaluable public assets. Hidebound by their twisted corporate ideology, they dismiss public parks as government intrusion into the private realms of Disneyland and SeaWorld. So, while we Americans celebrate the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service, Washington is literally stripping “service” out of the National Park Service. And, by refusing to fund essential upkeep year after year, America’s so-called “leaders” are guaranteeing that this invaluable national asset – deemed America’s “best idea” by novelist and historian Wallace Stegner – will fall into acute disrepair. The only solution, they say, is to commercialize, industrialize and privatize our parks, converting these jewels of the common good into just another corporate cash cow. Stillwater News Press

Donald Cohen: Save Your Public Library! Earlier this month, in yet another win for local control, leaders in one central Florida county rejected a proposal from a for-profit library management company to take over their public library. The company, Library Systems & Services (or LSSI), operates at least 80 public libraries across the country, but Marion County joins a growing list of municipalities who realized that LSSI’s claim to do more with less while still making a profit was a greater fiction than even Stephen King’s best stories.   Huffington Post

The Company You Keep: Why Is Jeb Bush Cozy With a Discredited Charter School Mill?  In his time since leaving the Florida Governor mansion, Mr. Bush’s nonprofit, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, pushed public policies that offer the educational equivalent of spoiled milk. These policies also happened to benefit one of his foundation’s donors, Herndon, Virginia based K12 Inc., a pedagogically controversial virtual charter school management company. Founded in 2000, the for-profit company on the New York Stock Exchange operates virtual public charter schools that enroll more than 130,000 students around the United States. The company has contributed between $85,000-$175,000 to Mr. Bush’s foundation since 2011. Observer

KS: Great Plains Faces Invisible Water Crisis. . . Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon dismissed the aqueduct as a “harebrained” scheme that would divert river water needed for barge traffic and municipal use. But in western Kansas, it doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. . . . Fervent support for the project speaks to the urgency felt by Scott, Peterson and other farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods and communities depend on irrigation. They’re hoping to convince the federal government to kick in funds for the aqueduct. And they’re looking into the possibility of building it through a public-private partnership, like a toll road. Farming cooperatives in California and Colorado have expressed interest in the project, they say, and want to explore extending it farther west. Times Record           

KS: Why teachers can’t hotfoot it out of Kansas fast enough. . . According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Kansas Board of Education decided in July to allow six school systems — including two of the largest in the state — to hire unlicensed teachers to ease the shortage. (Let the irony sink in for a minute.) Specifically, the newspaper reported: The measure will waive the state’s licensure regulations for a group of districts called the Coalition of Innovative Districts, a program that the Legislature established in 2013 based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council. (Yes, ALEC, an organization that writes “model legislation” on a variety of topics that conservative legislators use in states to make new laws that promote privatization, strikes again. Under this legislation, districts can ignore most laws and regulations — including union contracts — that other public schools in a state must follow.) Washington Post (blog)

IL: Emanuel defends privatization guidelines. Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday defended his proposal to add more steps before public assets can be privatized, saying it will help protect Chicagoans from another deal like the despised parking meter lease, even as critics argued the changes don’t go far enough. Emanuel introduced an ordinance calling for public meetings, an independent financial review and an explanation of the benefits of proposed big-ticket privatizations before a City Council vote. Though the plan surfaced as Emanuel desperately seeks new sources of revenue to deal with the city’s pension holes and budget shortfall, the mayor said he is not considering any plans to privatize or lease city services or assets. Chicago Tribune

TN: Haslam chief of staff: Not privatizing TN prison system. Staffing shortages, schedule changes and safety concerns aren’t a signal that the state of Tennessee is moving to privatize its prison system, said Mark Cate, outgoing chief of staff to Gov. Bill Haslam. Cate, whose last day as chief of staff was Friday, said the state was “absolutely not” going to shift control of Tennessee prisons to a private company. The Tennessean

MI: No Accountability? 30 Percent of Detroit’s Charter Schools Have Closed. A 1994 law introduced public charter schools to the state of Michigan. Since that time, about 30 percent of the charters that have opened their doors within the city of Detroit have been forced to close by their authorizers. Over that period, 72 of the taxpayer-funded schools — otherwise known as “public school academies” — have been authorized in the city, including a few overseen by the Detroit school district itself. Of these 72 schools, 22 were later closed due to financial, academic or enrollment issues. Michigan Capitol Confidential

July 30, 2015

IL: Emanuel to introduce privatization rules to avoid repeat of parking meter debacle. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is finally delivering on his campaign promise to establish rules of the road for privatizing city assets and services to make certain that the parking meter debacle is never repeated. A similar privatization ordinance championed by the anti-Emanuel Progressive Caucus has been languishing in a City Council committee for years. Chicago Sun-Times

IL: Hundreds Take to the Streets Over Chicago Board of Education’s Decision to Further Slash CPS Funding. “We need teachers! We need books! We need the money that the banks took!” chanted a group of protesters outside of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters July 22. The crowd was protesting the Board of Education’s recent decision to slash funding to Chicago schools by $200 million while paying massive amounts of debt to banks like Bank of America. This latest round of cuts includes cutting 1,400 positions—200 of which serve special needs students in the city. “. . . Community and parent groups were also there to protest what they say is an expansion of charter schools in the city that comes at the expense of public schools. In These Times

VA: Prices for toll lanes on I-95 significantly higher than advertised on website. The website for Virginia’s new 95 Express lanes showed tolls can range from 20 cents to approximately 80 cents per mile, but the company that runs the lanes, Transurban, confirmed they have charged up to $6.60 to travel one mile on the express lane. Daniel Seymour, who travels between Spotsylvania and Northern Virginia for work, took a picture of a toll sign at exit 161 by Woodbridge. It read a price of $5.65 to go a little over a mile to exit 160. . . . “There’s no reason I should have to pay that when they advertise between 20 cents a mile and 80 cents a mile approximately,” Seymour said.

KS: Federal Investigation Continues Into Kansas GOP’s Medicaid Privatization Program. The dysfunctional Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) known as KanCare continues to face public scrutiny and federal investigations into claims that patients experienced long waits and subpar care. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into complaints about Medicaid waiting lists for disability services in Kansas is ongoing, according to a statement by a department spokesperson last week. . .. KanCare, a Republican-backed program, launched in January 2013, when the state’s traditional Medicaid program was phased out. In its place, the Brownback administration contracted three for-profit health insurance companies to coordinate health care for more than 360,000 low-income residents. . . Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, testified that KanCare has steadily reduced services for the state’s most vulnerable residents. . . . During the forum, much of the blame was directed toward the three managed-care companies contracted by the state: Amerigroup Kansas, the United Healthcare Community Plan, and the Sunflower Health Plan. RH Reality Check

KS: Legislative committee denies request for audit of foster care system. The request was brought by House Democrats in response to recent media coverage of cases where children have died either when placed in a foster care home or after being reunited with family members. . . The Legislative Post Audit Committee voted down the request 5-4, splitting along party lines. A second vote to keep the proposal alive so it could possibly be revisited passed with bipartisan support. . . . Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who brought forth the request along with Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, argued that privatization of the foster care system in recent years had lessened state oversight and that an audit was needed to determine whether the DCF had ensured the safety of children in the system. Wichita Eagle

TX: Canadians Make Texas Highway Spoof That’s Uncomfortably Close to Reality. The conceit of the joke: Texans love to drive and a lot of them are rich, and so a few would probably be willing shell out extra $65,000 to drive on a road from Dallas to Houston that is reserved for people who can buy their way into an elite motorist clique. “Just feels good to get out there and drive with like minded people, I guess,” one interviewed character says. And another: “I take great comfort that everyone on the road has insurance.” D Magazine

MI: Opinion: Think tank’s effort to discredit union fails. One group in particular, the Mackinac Center, has spent considerable time and resources attacking public education and school employees. The center, which touts itself as a “think tank,” is corporately funded. . . The studies are peddled to legislators, imploring them to privatize public education, which in turn enriches the corporations who fund the Mackinac Center. The return on those corporate investments is evident, as shown by the dramatic growth of privatization in public schools . . The Michigan Education Association has stood as the one road block to this scheme, fighting for and defending public education and those who work in our public schools. As such, the Mackinac Center has conducted expensive campaigns attempting to persuade MEA members to quit the union. . . .The campaign, now in its third year has been a bust, as MEA has retained over 90 percent of its membership since the “right to work” law was passed. The Detroit News

July 29, 2015

IL: Tax breaks sought for Illiana toll road. In another sign the controversial Illiana Expressway still has a pulse, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is seeking legislative approval of tax breaks that could benefit the on-again, off-again project. . . . The project also has been the subject of a federal court ruling that found the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the project in 2013 violated U.S. environmental law. . . Howard, Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, was surprised to hear the administration was pursuing the sales tax exemption proposal in light of the federal ruling. “I don’t get it. Why in the world is the Department of Revenue proposing to grant a sales tax exemption for this project?” Learner said. “It’s time for the State of Illinois to stop wasting money on boondoggle projects like the Illiana Expressway.” The Southern Illinosian

WI: Private firm cashes in on public campsites. . . Base camping rates at state parks, which increased on Tuesday, and the cost of vehicle-admission stickers, make camping in those facilities too expensive for him and a lot of his peers, he said. It’s not just those fees that campers must pay to stay in state recreation areas. A reservation fee that is assessed in virtually every transaction involving a state campground reservation also is tacked on to the cost. Most of the revenue generated from that fee goes to a private contractor, which collects more than $1 million every year from residents and tourists, Gannett Wisconsin Media has found. The company, ReserveAmerica, has been paid an estimated $16.4 million since 1999, when it first entered a contract with the state Department of Natural Resources to manage online and phone reservations for state camping sites, according to data released by the DNR. Of the $9.70 reservation fee, the DNR keeps $1 and the rest goes to ReserveAmerica. Marshfield News-Herald

KY: Candidates for governor propose privatizing parks. . . Kentucky’s two major nominees for governor said Tuesday the state should consider privatizing at least some of its public park system as a way to save money to deal with upcoming budget issues.

FL: Hundreds show up to voice complaints over plan for I-275 toll lanes. . . Speakers from several local community groups organized the town hall meeting to put pressure on the Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organization to stop plans for the Tampa Bay Express project that would widen portions of Interstate 275 with toll lanes. The Metropolitan Planning Organization will meet Aug. 4, and community organizers expect residents to show up in throngs. More than 2,000 people already have signed a petition on to remove the project from road plans. At Tuesday’s town hall meeting, activists and businesses owners helped answer residents’ questions about the 175-page expansion plan

OH: Audit: Dayton charter school board members overpaid themselves. Board members at a Dayton charter school over-paid themselves by a combined $4,350 last year, according to a state audit released today. Dayton Daily News

NJ: Freehold Twp. teachers reject outsourced assistants. The teachers union here is taking a stand against the school district’s move to outsource teacher assistant posts to a local agency, saying the cost-cutting move would diminish learning. Asbury Park Press

NJ: 911 dispatch – the next go-to service for privatization?. Lawrence Township became the first New Jersey municipality to make the move in early 2013. According to Mayor Cathleen Lewis, her town may see cost savings over time, but the main reason for the switch was to get more officers on the street. New Jersey 101.5 FM

OK: Editorial: No privatization: Keep Tulsa Jail under public control. . . Privatization turned out to be a bad deal for taxpayers the first time around — from 1999, when the new jail opened, until March 2005, when the sheriff’s office won a bid to take over jail operation. We don’t think a second experience would be any better. Tulsa World

Opinion: A job for government. Tucked into a dusty corner of the Senate’s pending Highway Trust Fund bill is a zombie proposal to hire private debt-collection agencies to hound delinquent taxpayers on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS has actually tried outsourcing tax-collection activities before, at Congress’ behest. Twice, in fact, over the last two decades. Both times, the experiment was a disaster. Privatizing delinquent tax collections led to complaints from taxpayers who got harassed and bullied by an industry known for rampant harassment and bullying, particularly of low-income people who don’t know their rights. Perhaps more important, at least from a fiscal responsibility perspective, both times the program was scrapped because it actually cost taxpayers money on net, despite assurances ahead of time of the huge bounty it would lasso. The Leaf-Chronicle



July 27, 2015

Congress moves agency by agency to cut rights of feds, limit their pay, facilitate their dismissal. Step by step, agency by agency, Congress is moving to facilitate the firing of federal employees, cut their workplace rights and limit their pay. Currently in the dock – workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Defense Department. . . . The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved on Wednesday a bill allowing the VA to revoke bonuses paid to staffers involved in that scandal. This would apply to employees who “contributed to the purposeful omission” of veterans on electronic wait lists and to supervisors who knew or “reasonably should have known” about the omissions. Employees would be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The independent Office of Special Council would have to give permission before whistleblowers could be fired or demoted. Washington Post

Republicans Want Private Debt Collectors To Replace IRS Agents. Senate Republicans want to replace IRS agents with private debt collection agencies, which are known to harass people for overdue credit card bills and student loan payments. . . Senate Democrats on Wednesday night fought off a GOP effort to pay for the highway funding with Social Security cuts, but the privatized debt collection maneuver remains in the bill. While privatization is popular with congressional Republicans, collection agencies have terrible reputations. They frequently run afoul of the law by illegally harassing or intimidating borrowers, and sometimes even family members of borrowers who are under no legal obligation to make good on their relatives’ debts. Collectors also often get in trouble with the government for tricking borrowers into ponying up payments they are not actually required to make. Huffington Post

NJ: Chris Christie Is Turning Tap Water Into a Private Commodity. In 2010, the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey, were asked to sell part of their water system for $80 million to New Jersey American Water, the largest private water utility company in the state. Despite the company’s best lobbying efforts—a $1 million spending spree that included an onslaught of advertisements, telephone calls, and door-to-door canvassers—the voters weren’t persuaded. They rejected the privatization attempt by nearly four-to-one at the ballot box. . . . In recent months, however, lawmakers in New Jersey have passed legislation that attempts to silence the voices of communities like Trenton. The Water Infrastructure Protection Act (WIPA), signed by Governor (and presidential candidate) Chris Christie in February, empowers municipalities to sell their water utilities to private corporations without a public vote. . . . “It’s a great deal for water companies. It’s a terrible deal for citizens,” says state Senator Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex, who opposed the bill. “Let’s call it what it is: greed.” The Nation

NJ: Camden rejects efforts to privatize 911 services. Camden City is nixing a plan to privatize its 911 dispatch services, officials announced Friday afternoon. City Business Administrator Robert Corrales the administration decided to reject all of the bids it had received from companies seeking to take over the city’s police dispatch after neither showed any significant cost savings. “We’re better suited with what we have now,” said Corrales.

NY: Charter Schools Lose Ground in Funding, Report Says. Charter schools have lost ground to public schools during the past five years in terms of per-student funding, according to a report released Thursday by the city’s Independent Budget Office. Wall Street Journal‎

NC: Toll road opponents pledge to continue fighting project in Legislature. Opponents of the $655 million Interstate 77 toll lane project say it’s not too late and the odds aren’t too long to stop what they see as a economic development disaster waiting to happen. “This will be canceled. Bet your money on it,” Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Puckett said, adding that the $100 million cancellation fee is a fraction of what it could cost the state to buy out the toll lane project later. Charlotte Observer

FL: Florida Gov. Scott Behind Bill Privatizing All Transit Systems. State Rep. Jason Brodeur wants public transportation agencies to seek proposals from private companies. The Sanford republican is working on legislation with the governor and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. Broduer points to Volusia County’s Votran system run by a company out of Texas. He said Votran’s been more efficient with its private sector management. Broduer now wants not only Orlando’s Lynx system to look for private management, but all transit authorities to seek it out. WMFE

FL: Toll road convention draws international crowd to Miami. Trading tips on everything from new technology that would allow them to shut down a car headed the wrong way on an exit ramp to the best way to extract money from scofflaw drivers who don’t want to pay, nearly 600 owners and operators of toll roads gathered for a worldwide convention in downtown Miami on Monday. Miami Herald

FL: Opinion: Florida is increasingly addicted to toll roads – at commuters’ expense….One reason for relying more on traditional roads is that tolling is regressive. That’s particularly troubling in a low-wage community such as ours that leads America’s major metros in jobs that pay less than $25,000. They are filled with the people who clean hotel rooms and staff theme parks. And many seek housing where it’s cheaper in the suburbs, where they rely on — you guessed it — tolls. It’s a wicked cycle. Proponents of toll roads — from Rick Scott and legislators to U.S. Rep. John Mica, the father of the I-4 plan — say tolls provide options for drivers, including a speedier for-pay alternative. But the price can be steep: as much as $14 each way on the 21-mile tolled stretch of I-4. The prices will fluctuate. Sometimes they could be as little as $2. But not when you really need them. The more congestion, the higher the tolls. Toll planners call this “dynamic pricing.” Real people call it “gouging.” Orlando Sentinel           

VA: Editorial: Lesson learned in public-private deals: Be careful. . . Start with the $260 million the state spent to turn U.S. 460 into a high-priced, high-speed toll road, a highway that will never be built. Or the enormous and endless giveaway of drivers’ money to the company that will control – and toll – the Elizabeth River tunnels for the next six decades. But McDonnell’s ideology led Virginians astray on more issues than just roads. His administration briefly devoted significant energy to privatizing the state’s ABC stores, a wasteful effort that simple math – and past governors – would have told him couldn’t work. Unfortunately, practical cautions were no match for the promises of industry groups, think tanks or the prospects of higher office. McDonnell also tried to sell The Port of Virginia, perhaps the state’s most valuable publicly owned asset. For years, that initiative destabilized the governance and operation of one of the state’s major enterprise engines. The Virginian-Pilot

WI: Opinion: Stop the privatization of public education. There are certain issues for which politicians will fight tooth and nail, and are the reason why they entered into public service in the first place. For me, access to high-quality public education always has been one of those issues. As a kid growing up in a working class home, high-quality public schools with caring teachers helped make me the person I am today. And as someone who cares deeply about the strength of public education, I am dismayed at the recent attempts by Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson to use Wisconsin’s education system as a political poker chip by expanding and promoting the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher program. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

TX: Editorial: Editorial: Privatized GED has failed students, should be changed. . . Across Texas, the number of people taking the test declined by nearly 45 percent since it was privatized. Only 30 percent of those passed — half what the passing rate had been. At the East Texas Literacy Council in Longview, those who were able to pass the GED test fell from 73 in 2013 to just five in 2014. Five. . . Other problems could be more of a hurdle, mainly the fact that taking the test now costs almost twice as much — $135 — as it did before. . . But that’s not all. Those who want to take the test no longer can do so in person, using paper and pencil. They must register online with a credit or debit card, which many of them do not have. Longview News-Journal

July 16, 2015

Greek Bailout Deal Gives Adrenalin Shot to Privatization Process. Greek asset sales are back on the table after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras caved in to eurozone leaders’ demands for talks on an €86 billion ($95 billion) bailout package to keep the Mediterranean country afloat and inside the single-currency club. . . . The deal entails a “significantly scaled-up” privatization program, transferring €50 billion worth of state assets to an independent fund that will either try to sell them or generate money from them.. . . . The previous privatization program, stalled for months by Greek political turmoil, was never in the fast lane to begin with, with land development projects making up the bulk of completed asset sales.

Education: the Next Corporate Frontier. Over the last thirty years or so, private corporations have been steadily taking over school systems all around the world. Going hand in hand with “free” trade and development, the privatization of education is simply another step towards corporate control of the entire economy. If you’re tuned in to education news in the US, you may be familiar with the public school closures in Chicago, the so-called Recovery School District in New Orleans, and the proposed budget cuts in Milwaukee that have brought parents, students and teachers into the streets. But few of us hear about how students in Chile have been protesting for nearly a decade against rampant privatization that has increased economic inequality. Or how the UK government recently passed an education act allowing the conversion of all state schools into privately run “academies”. Or how Structural Adjustment Programs and development aid have paved the way for privatization of schools across Africa, which has resulted in reduced enrollment of girls and exclusion of the poorest children. CounterPunch


Toll road convention draws international crowd to Miami

Trading tips on everything from new technology that would allow them to shut down a car headed the wrong way on an exit ramp to the best way to extract money from scofflaw drivers who don’t want to pay, nearly 600 owners and operators of toll roads gathered for a worldwide convention in downtown Miami on Monday. With 34 American states plus Puerto Rico operating nearly 6,000 miles of toll roads, which have turned into a $14 billion industry that’s growing quickly and commanding international attention. Miami Herald

GA: $834 million road project begins toll network around Atlanta.  An $834 million interstate toll-lane project is taking shape in the northwest Atlanta suburb, the start of an infrastructure makeover that officials say will lead to a network of reversible express lanes throughout the metro area. . . . The projects follow Georgia lawmakers adopting a $1 billion transportation plan earlier this year, plowing new money into road and bridge construction.   Tifton Gazette

IL: Illinois House approves DCEO privatization bill.A plan to privatize Illinois’ economic development agency and beef up its responsibilities has cleared the House. Representatives voted 60-6 Tuesday for the changes. The measure would allow the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to be turned into a public-private partnership, an idea Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner initially supported. Journal Star

MI: Michigan Union Will Try To Stop No-Bid Prison Food Contract. AFSCME Council 25 said a state board’s expected decision Tuesday to OK the no-bid contract with Trinity Services Group violates state law. Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration announced Monday that the state and current food vendor Aramark Correctional Services cut ties early and Trinity would do the work instead. The union says changing vendors without re-bidding the work is “bad business” that “cheats the public.” It says state employees should do the work like they were doing until two years ago. WILX-TV