Privatization is on the ballot

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Highlights

  • Privatization is on the ballot. (See #1 below.)
  • Why are public-private partnerships in infrastructure risky for state and local governments? Check out this comprehensive webinar.
  • Federal lawmakers’ concerns have “grown exponentially” about Maryland’s failing Purple Line public-private partnership transit project.

1) National: Privatization is on the ballot tomorrow. As readers of the Weekly Privatization Report know, Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate have pursued aggressive efforts for four years to significantly privatize schools, national parks, prisons, immigration facilities and enforcement, public infrastructure, the US Postal Service, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, and much else. With a new pro-privatization majority likely on the Supreme Court and in many lower federal courts, legal protections against the misdeeds of private, for profit contractors are at risk. So is public transparency at all levels. The loss of public control involved would be a loss for democracy.

State level elections are at least as important in the battle against privatization, since public services and infrastructure are mostly rooted in our communities. So public education, water, accountable municipal services, transit, highways, properly supervised public contracting and finance, waste management and snow removal, vehicle inspection, Medicaid services, school bus services, healthcare in jails, juvenile rehabilitation, land use planning and too many other services to list here—are also on the ballot. As is the possibility of turning the page and reversing privatization through the remunicipalization of public services and infrastructure.

The outcomes of our national, state an local elections will determine whether or not we enter an even more radical phase of the destruction and erosion of public assets and services, or if this trend can be reversed. So if you haven’t already, vote for the public interest and the common good.

2) National: In many states, voters will face various ballot measures, including several that could have profound implications on state and local budgets. The Hill has published a useful list of ballot measures on taxation. “There are at least 30 tax- and revenue-related measures on the ballot in 16 states across the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, sparking fights over property taxes, income taxes and excise taxes. In several states, voters will decide whether to increase taxes for high-income individuals and businesses—a priority for progressives. In others, voters will decide whether to legalize and tax marijuana sales.”

3) National: John McMurtry, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, says the unseen agenda behind Trump is to destroy the public realm to free the rich. “Private financial firms have displaced governments in the financing of water, transport, education, housing, environmental services, and health for their private profit, and all decline in growing disorder. But the Trump agenda fast-forwards the process at every point he can replace public control with private exploitation and corporate lobbyists in control.” 

This is part of a long term trend. The solution? “Public law and power alone ensure all the life enabling programs for clean air and water, sewage plants, green energy, universal literacy, public health, parks, libraries, art, broadcasting and all that private money does not buy. We are at the visible edge of an unfolding system chaos. It demands public re-set to collective life-protective law at every level for the evolution of humanity and the natural world to have a chance.”

4) National: Katie Porter, a member of Congress from the 45th district of California, and Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, have a proposal for securing unemployment benefits for workers struggling under the impact of COVOD-19 job losses. “About 157 million Americans got health insurance through their jobs in 2018, and as those jobs disappear, workers confront sky-high COBRA premiums or an impossible puzzle of Medicaid eligibility. What if workers kept their paychecks and health insurance, and had the certainty that their same jobs would be there when the economy is able to reopen?”

5) Colorado: Craig city councilors asked community member Hannah Wood to provide more information— such as a business plan, a full grant request amount, and demographics for residents—on a potential emergency transitional housing unit that could help provide a solution to the homeless issue in the community this winter.

6) Maryland/National: Why are P3s risky for state and local governments? Check out this comprehensive webinar hosted by In the Public Interest, Don’t Widen 270, Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, Our Revolution Maryland, and Our Revolution Prince George’s. Participants explain what P3s are, how they are risky for governments and the public, and how Maryland has become, as Public Works Financing recently put it, “ground zero for the P3 industry in the United States.” [Video, about an hour and a half]

7) International: Cate Blanchett, the Australian actress and theater director, says COVID-19 has ravaged the whole idea of small government. “I think this need to gather is fundamental to who we are, and it has been stymied by COVID-19 but also underlined by it, and that need in us for community addresses the difficult lesson we have to learn: business is not government and government is not a business. The biggest choice as governments began thinking about easing lockdowns, the choice that really seems to divide us deeply, is that between community and economy. Like life, art can be a business. But like life, art is not all business—and it is that endangered space where life and art are not just about money that government is there to help safeguard.”

Education

8) National: Jeff Bryant says bad leadership is plunging public schools into a crisis. “This disregard for teachers is all the more galling given that 2018–2019 witnessed the #Red4Ed wave of teacher rebellions, where educators—mostly in politically red states—held sickouts, walkouts, and mass street demonstrations to protest a lack of funding, attacks on teacher professionalism, and continuing threats to close and privatize public schools. 

9) ArizonaDespite the pandemic, charter school expansion continues in the Phoenix area. “Peoria-based Candeo Schools Inc. has purchased a parcel of vacant land next to its new campus in north Scottsdale to allow for expansion. The charter school paid $400,000 for the 2.5-acre parcel next to its campus at 7191 E. Ashler Hills Drive, that will be home to an agricultural and science area that is projected to open in 2021. (…) Candeo is among a growing list of charter schools in Arizona, which has more than 213,000 students enrolled in 573 charter schools across the state, representing nearly 20% of public school students. That’s up from nearly 100,000 charter school students in 2010. Also expanding is Legacy Traditional Schools, which is opening three schools in fall 2021, which will serve up to 600 K-6 students, said Nicole Kirkley, superintendent of Legacy Traditional Schools.”

10) California: Capital & Man’s Larry Buhl reports on how Los Angeles’ school board races are turning expensive and ugly. “A pricey proxy war between rival factions—charter school advocates and L.A.’s main teachers union—is playing out in two runoff races that could determine control of the Los Angeles Unified School District board. On one side is United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). On the other are California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and charter allies Alice and Jim Walton; philanthropist and major charter backer Eli Broad; and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Because the two races could tip the balance of power on the board toward teachers unions and traditional schools, or to charter schools, both sides are spending an unprecedented amount of money on their candidates – and, in the case of the charter-friendly candidates, to attack their opponents.” 

11) California: Carl Petersen asks “What Does Granada Charter High School Not Want You To Know?” in his look at an LAUSD school board race. 

12) California: A new report from the Ross Valley School District reaffirms allegations of fraud and false statements by Ross Valley Charter school regarding its handling of a $270,000 federal coronavirus relief loan earlier this year. “The 247-page staff report, published late Monday on the district’s website at rossvalleyschools.org, recommends the school district deny the Fairfax charter school’s petition for a five-year renewal of its charter. (…) While the bulk of the document involves the coronavirus aid loan, there are other issues as well.”

13) District of ColumbiaThe Coalition for Public Schools & Communities says “before you cast your #DCision20 ballot, check out our questionnaire. @councilofdc is responsible for budget & oversight of @dcpublicschools & @dcpcsb. There are clear differences btwn at-large candidates on how to approach public ed governance.”

14) Florida: Academica, the private, for profit  charter school development and management company, has been busy working the Miami-Dade real estate market. “Finally, Academica affiliate School Development East sold the Mater Academy East Campus for $8.3 million. It has a 16,800-square-foot building on the 17,500-square-foot lot at 458 S.W. Fourth St. in Little Havana. The deal allows Academica to cash out after investing in the development of charter schools, although it will still earn management fees for the schools.” 

15) New Hampshire: Marjorie Porter, a member of the state House, praises a committee’s rejection of federal money to support charter schools. “Here are some facts: There are currently 28 public charter schools in New Hampshire. The grant would cover the start-up costs for 27 new charters, effectively doubling the number, and would expand five already in existence. The current charter schools have seats for around 4,000 students; 1,252 of those seats remain empty.

“Charter schools are public schools and receive money from the state education fund. The base adequacy aid the state gives for each public school student is about $3,700, but that is not nearly enough to pay for the costs to educate our kids. Local public schools make up the difference with local property taxes. Because charters can’t do that, the state chips in another $3,500 per charter student—effectively doubling what it gives to kids attending local schools.” 

16) North Carolina: NC Policy Watch has published a look behind the curtain of North Carolina’s charter school oversight process. “CSAB member Steven Walker rejected the Bazemores’ assessment of the process in an interview with Policy Watch. ‘I think the Charter School Advisory Board has always been fair. It has always been consistent and has always done a good job of evaluating applications on the merit.’ Dave Machado, director of the state Office of Charter Schools, said applicants are treated the same. ‘Every application that our office receives, receives the same statutory-required process regardless of if they’ve had a charter school before or not,’ Machado said. ‘The Charter School Advisory Board is charged with looking at the application in front of them and making the best decision.’”

17) Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools has received a $30 million grant from Betsy DeVos’ DOE to expand charter schools. PCPCS will now be soliciting proposals from across the state. “Pennsylvanians would be better served if [the coalition] spent its time and resources on improving the many already existing low-performing charter schools in the commonwealth before spending taxpayer money on expanding the sector,” Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters PA, an advocacy group for traditional public schools, told the Inquirer.

18) Think Tanks: NPE’s Grassroots Education Network has released its October 2020 Newsletter. Some snippets:

  • Check out Bay Area Collective Keeping Privatizers Away from Community Schools (BACKPACS) onFacebook to keep up with all their movements in fighting back the charter lobby in the Bay Area. 
  • North Country Alliance For Public Education works to end the reliance on high stakes testing and to stop the privatization that is taking over their schools. If you live in the North Country of New York, consider joiningtheir closed Facebook group to connect.
  • The Vermont Coalition for Equity in Education hosted an incredible webinar this month on  “Decolonizing the Classroom.”  You can see and share that webinar here

Infrastructure

19) National: Public Works Financing has a front page post-mortem on the failure of the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange, a private nonprofit that was set up in 2014 to promote P3s in California and the Northwest and make use of Canadian experience. The idea behind ICX was to bypass government departments and agencies which traditionally have done the work of public works infrastructure development, and create the specialized expertise they felt was needed to make P3s viable and popular. But the project could not attract funding and support so it has closed its doors. PWF seems to hold out hope that the project may be revived, but that seems unlikely. The problem is that the original core idea—that P3s are a good idea—always rested on dubious grounds, and their recent failures (e.g. Maryland’s Purple Line) indicate that if any P3s emerge they will have to stand on their own. [Public Works Financing, October 2020; sub required].

There will be no major P3 wave, though no doubt a number of unviable projects will continue to be marketed by the P3 industry and its paid boosters. However, there certainly is a critical need for specialized knowledge at all levels of government on best practices in delivery models, financing, and project management, so public servants don’t have to rely on industry for their assessments of proposals. Public and nonprofit support for such training initiatives would benefit citizens.

20) Maryland: Briana Adhikusuma of Bethesda Magazine reports that federal lawmakers’ concerns have “grown exponentially” about the Purple Line, a P3 whose private contractors are walking away and demanding compensation from taxpayers. “Given the importance and size of this project, we urge you to use this time to negotiate with PLTP and, at the same time, continue making the necessary arrangements to transition the project to [the Maryland Department of Transportation] if a settlement is not reached,” the lawmakers’ letter says. “It is imperative to find a path forward as these delays mean that Maryland residents are the ones that suffer.” 

The letter to Hogan was signed by Maryland’s nine Democratic senators and representatives — Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin, and David Trone. Rep. Andrew Harris, a Republican, did not sign the letter.

Yesterday The Washington Post published an editorial demanding that politicians—especially Gov. Larry Hogan (R), with his penchant for “happy talk”—get off the dime and provide some answers to Maryland residents and businesses. In the meantime the Post suggests the businesses threatened by the P3 disaster get some financial relief.

In the midst of all this chaos, believe it or not some people have come up with an idea for yet another P3—a monorail along Interstate 270 between Shady Grove and Frederick. Stay tuned.

21) New York: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) will back legislation that would strengthen enforcement against utility companies and hold them accountable for widespread failures in their systems. “The legislation, which has yet to be written but has been discussed by Cuomo previously, would increase penalties on utility companies for failing to adhere to emergency response plans and other violations of the Public Service Law or orders of the Public Service Commission. Currently, penalties are capped, which Cuomo said many companies see as a cost of doing business.”

The Center Square reports that “Wednesday’s remarks came as Hurricane Zeta was approaching Louisiana, with its remnants expected to pass through or near New York on Thursday. He called for an investigation into companies that have franchises with New York after the state had to provide 7,000 emergency workers to supplement utility crews in restoring services.”

22) Pennsylvania: In an encouraging move, the Chester Water Authority is launching a website to fight back against privatization. “Dueling websites will now be part of the arsenal in the fight between CWA and Aqua over the future of the 81-year-old utility,” reports the Delco Daily Times. “For years, the two entities have been at odds over the assets of the Chester Water Authority ever since Aqua presented an unsolicited bid to buy the authority for $250 million in May 2017. After the authority rejected it, various actions were taken and the matter now sits in a pile of 16 lawsuits, some which have made their way to the Commonwealth Court. The Chester Water Authority is launching a website next week, entitled chesterwaterfacts.com – to outline its perspective. In June, Aqua itself went live with its own site called AquaForChester.com, which offers a look into its viewpoint. The deadlock between the two is not likely to be broken any time soon.” 

23) International: Reporter Rebecca Root of Devex takes us behind the scenes of a “vicious” battle at the U.N. over efforts to suppress a report on water privatization. “David Boys, deputy general secretary of Public Services International—a federation of more than 700 trade unions — said the ‘topic always generates heat,’ but the way AquaFed has gone about ‘undermining’ the report has been obscure, backhanded, and, at times, nasty. ‘Because [privateers] have one imperative, which is to maximize profit, they know how to game the system,’ he said. ‘But this issue is real, it needs to be debated, and AquaFed can’t try to shut it down.’ In response to the criticism, a group of organizations — Corporate Accountability, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural RightsPublic Services International, and the Transnational Institute — issued a statement of support for Heller. In it, they call out AquaFed for trying to “silence and discredit” Heller with “unfounded” concerns, for questioning his impartiality, and for ‘undermin[ing] the independence of the Special Rapporteur and his work.’” 

24) International: While all this is going on, how about some wild speculation involving derivatives on water prices?“As the spread between water demand and supply widens, mechanisms to control deliveries are springing up in the market, usually at the expense of the poorer groups. In line with the trend, stock and commodity market operators CME and Nasdaq announced last month that by the end of the year they would include futures contracts tied to a California water price index.” 

25) International/Think Tanks: Don Sullivan, the former director of the Boreal Forest Network, says parks are for people, not privatization. “Over the years, I have noticed two ways that governments go about privatizing. Which way they choose depends upon whether they see a public asset or service as being of value, or not. When governments view a public asset or service as more of a liability, they feel it necessary to pump up its value, usually with last-minute investments, making the public asset or service more attractive to private entities when government is ready to privatize. By contrast, for a valued public asset or service, governments usually undertake a series of moves, over time, to undermine the value of a public asset or service to convince the public that it needs to be better managed or sold to private entities.” 

Criminal Justice and Immigration

26) National: Reuters has issued a special report on how U.S. jails are outsourcing medical care. “Reuters corroborated their claims about faulty care at the jail in this city of antebellum homes and moss-covered oaks [Savannah—ed]. The story of deadly neglect was assembled through previously unreported whistleblower testimony, thousands of court and police documents, interviews with more than a dozen former medical and jail staff, and confidential monitor reports.

“In the last years of Corizon’s watch from 2014 to 2016, prescription drugs went missing, patients deemed gravely ill by medical staff were denied hospitalization, mentally ill inmates went untreated and records were falsified, Reuters found. Weeks passed with no doctor on site, leaving care to nurses and video calls with doctors. The jail’s 400 mentally ill inmates, nearly a quarter of its population, were treated by a sole psychiatrist. Corizon said it put patient care first and told its staff to hospitalize inmates when needed.” 

27) National: The GEO Group released its third quarter financial results and held its earnings call last week, with most of its numbers similar to previous quarters. The private prison industry is awaiting the results of the elections—which could dramatically impact its stock prices and business prospects in either direction—with bated breath. 

One analyst tried to surface some of the nervousness, but was relatively unsuccessful.

“Joe Gomes: Just wanted to kind of start on the big picture and you’ve talked a little bit about – about, I don’t know if you give a little more color or detail on this election and what your guy’s thoughts or what you’re preparing for if Biden wins versus Trump wins. Biden has made some comments about eliminating the use of private companies, just trying to get a little more color and detail on what your thoughts are and what you guys are looking at going forward after the election?

Brian Evans[CFO]: It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to speculate on the potential outcome of the presidential election, but as we’ve mentioned earlier, we provided a high-quality essential services to the federal government for more than 30 years under both Democratic and Republican administrations and under different controls of Congress by both parties. So we grew fairly steadily under the Obama-Biden administration previously and unless there is a major change in border security, I don’t know that there will be much changes. So, we will look at whether there is actual policy differences that applied to our business as if there is a change of parties but otherwise, we are just continue to do our job and try to do our best to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. But as we’ve stressed, we have 3.5 decades of high-quality services under both parties.”


28) National: The GEO Group’s Karnes facility in Texas is now holding families that are awaiting expulsion. “An ICE spokesperson confirmed the Karnes facility is now only housing “Title 42 family units prior to their expulsion” through deportation flights. The term “Title 42” refers to the process the Trump administration has created to expel border-crossers under public health laws during the pandemic, rather than placing them in deportation proceedings or allowing them to request forms of U.S. humanitarian refuge, like asylum. The Trump administration has said the expulsions, which were authorized through orders issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are necessary to prevent potentially migrants from spreading COVID-19 inside detention facilities and infecting border officials and the broader U.S. public. More than 200,000 expulsions have been carried out across the U.S.-Mexico border since March, including of 8,800 unaccompanied children, whose legal protection have been effectively suspended during the pandemic.”

Andrea Meza, an attorney with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), told CBS News that “the twisted irony is that the alleged purpose of the CDC’s authority under Title 42 is to promote public health and avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons. Yet, by concentrating the detention of families in Title 42 at the Karnes family prison, where there have been multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19, ICE increases the risk of transmission.” 

29) National: A federal Fourth Circuit panel has heard arguments over prison video calls for the deaf. The case is “over whether a North Carolina prison violated a deaf civil detainee’s First Amendment rights by not allowing him to use a videophone to contact people on the outside.” 

30) NevadaA Covid-19 outbreak has hit CoreCivic’s Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump. “‘It’s been a time bomb that our office has been waiting to go off since March,’ said Maggie Lambrose, one of two assistant federal public defenders who spoke with the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday about conditions inside the detention center. Most of the inmates are in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the U.S. Marshals Service.” 

31) Oklahoma: Ever see what a prison meal that costs less than a dollar looks like? Take a look

32) Tennessee: After 36 years, an “experiment” in private prisons is coming to an end. “’Silverdale is the place where everyone will decide if a private company can or should operate a prison,’ then-Warden Bob Landon told the Chattanooga Times in 1985. But this summer, CoreCivic sent a letter to the county saying it was exercising a clause that allowed it to withdraw from the facility within 180 days. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is now quickly attempting to take over the aging facility. And then there was news back in mid-February that two federal judges directed all 52 federal inmates who were housed in the facility to be transferred out and housed in neighboring facilities. They did so, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, for the prisoners’ safety, and the sheriff’s office launched a criminal investigation.” 

33) International: United Kingdom immigration deportations are to be outsourced. “The Home Office has yet to issue a request for formal contractor bids. However, legal policy director for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), Chai Patel, has warned the government against offloading its legal responsibilities to private companies for the handling of migrant repatriation. Patel said: ‘Outsourcing the safety of migrants to private companies is no way to run a safe UK immigration system. Time and time again we see appalling abuse, neglect and even deaths of people at the hands of corporations that put profits before human lives. The government must be directly accountable for the safety of the people it deports and detains,’ Patel added.”

Public Services

34) National: Alina Ryan, a junior at Trinity College, says make your vote count and protect the USPS. “Privatizing the USPS would also negatively impact the 600,000 workers employed by the USPS, those who depend on the organization to deliver medications or Social Security checks, and hospitals or other businesses that rely on the transportation of goods.”

35) National/International: Even in the midst of a scandal in the UK about outsourced COVID-19 services, investors and analysts are setting up and pricing in a global outsourcing market for this vital public health function

36) Iowa: Ivy Schuster, the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 38, says privatized Medicaid isn’t working, let’s find a different model. “In the six years prior to Medicaid being privatized, per-member costs increased an average of 1.5 percent per year. In fiscal year 2017, the first full year of privatization, the increase was marked at 4.4 percent. In fiscal year 2018, we had an additional increase of 6.6 percent. These cost increases were reported by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. The only way that privatized Medicaid could be saving money is by denying claims that should be covered. The new standard practice is to reject claims multiple times. Many of these denied claims have been wrongfully paid by Medicaid recipients because they had neither the time nor energy to fight a system that was specifically designed not to help them.” 

37) MarylandThe St. Mary’s Transit system won’t be privatized—yet. “John Deatrick, director of the department, told commissioners Allison Swint, deputy director, ‘did a great job’ working with staff to reduce overtime by 56% while ‘still maintaining exactly the same service that we did pre-COVID.’ In late August, Swint was appointed to the newly created position of deputy director of transportation, which entailed reclassifying the airport manager position and eliminating the transportation manager position. Deatrick said cutting overtime had a ‘pretty major impact’ on the system as ‘drivers are happier’ on the job and there are fewer accidents than before,” according to Southern Maryland News. 

38) InternationalFormer British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says “the U.S. clearly wants access to our NHS in a trade deal and for the NHS to pay more for their drugs. They are not hiding their intentions. The Lords needs to pass the NHS protection amendment to the Trade Bill. #OurNHS stands by us—now we must stand by it.”

39) International: In Canada, the New Brunswick Auditor General has criticized the privatized ambulance service  in a report. “According to the report, it is likely that service has suffered because the private company managing the ambulance service is able to increase its profits by leaving paramedic positions vacant. The Auditor General also found that a conflict of interest exists when senior executives of the ambulance service are employees of the private company that is managing the ambulance service. This conflict is likely to result in the needs of the ambulance service taking a back seat to the interests of the management company.” 

Everything Else

40) International: Writing on the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Prio Blog, Neven Ahmad says it’s time to ask some questions about Covid-19 and P3s. She says “while both partnerships produced the end results required by the government, the partnerships themselves—their inner workings—were left largely hidden. Public-private partnerships is a policy buzzword that is used as a self-explanatory relationship, when in fact at times it hides more than it reveals. It uses the ideas of ‘partnership’ and ‘collaboration’ as positive attributes. While that might be true, when public welfare, evolution of technologies, funds and privacy are involved, the decisions made within these partnerships have severe societal implications. Therefore, it is vital that the public has full transparency and clear outlines for the responsibilities that are established.”