Racism is built into American infrastructure

Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the privatization of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.

Highlights

1) National/Think Tanks: The Partnership for Working Families, a national network of 20 powerful city and regional affiliate groups based in major urban areas across the country, has released a report on corporate interference in democratic self government at the state and local level. State and local preemption of laws and regulations is driven by corporate lobbyists and right wing groups. “This report focuses on five states—Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Michigan and Colorado—where people’s campaigns are underway to challenge corporations’ hold on democracy and allow cities to protect workers and tenants. The report unmasks the corporations driving the deregulation of their industries and trying to ensure that local organizing cannot translate into better laws.” 

2) National: “Are you vaccinated? Thank the government,” writes In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler. “There are countless others who support scientific research at public institutions day in and day out. The lab techs, administrative assistants,  janitors, and other public employees who will never get the credit they deserve. Yes, private investment played a role. But that’s because of what economist Mariana Mazzucato and her colleagues call our ‘over-financialized biopharmaceutical innovation model.’ That means that the COVID-19 vaccines are fraught with the problems we see in the privatization of public schools, water, and other public goods. There’s the inequality. As of February, not a single shot had been administered in some 130 nations with 2.5 billion people.”

3) National: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has announced she is reviving the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s Hedge Fund Working Group. “The group had lain dormant during the Trump Administration, but now would spark back to life to ‘enhance interagency data sharing and improve the Council’s ability to identify, assess, and address potential risks to financial stability related to hedge funds,’ Treasury said in a news release.” [Sub required]

4) National: The Economist reports on “the disaster that wasn’t” in state-level finances. “Last may California readied itself for budgetary disaster. State officials, forecasting dire impacts from the pandemic, projected that the state deficit would grow to $54bn over the coming fiscal year. That year has now come and gone, and California instead has a $15bn surplus, equivalent to about 7% of its budget for 2020. It is so flush with cash that its constitution obliges it to put some away for a rainy day.

“California is not alone in defying gloomy projections. In 22 American states, revenues in 2020 were higher than in 2019. Several now have budget surpluses. The governor of Idaho, which is celebrating a historic surplus, plans tax cuts. Utah will spend some of its windfall on transport infrastructure. Vermont intends to boost higher education and broadband internet. What has gone so right? Sound fiscal stewardship, federal aid, diversified economies and progressive tax systems have all played a part. But the recent downturn has also been a very unusual one.”

5) California: The Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) and the League of California Cities have joined together to oppose restrictions on local regulation of needle and syringe exchange programs (SEPs). “CDPH’s proposed regulatory changes delete the requirement for a SEP applicant to certify compliance with local ordinances. In justification of their proposal, CDPH argues that existing law preempts local land use ordinances regulating or prohibiting SEPs.  The League and RCRC vigorously reject these preemption claims and argue that such a regulatory change will mislead applicants into a false assumption that they need not comply with local regulations and lead to costly litigation.”

6) New Jersey: The Economist says “Good job, Newark” for bringing on safe drinking water. “Erik Olson, of the NRDC, who flagged Newark’s lead problems in a report in 2003, now says Newark could be a model for other cities. ‘We’ve had our scraps with the city,’ he says, ‘but they have turned things around.’ The NRDC and NEW Caucus settled their lawsuit with Newark in January. But most cities bicker over cost and access. Ras Baraka, Newark’s mayor, wanted to act fast, but lacked money. Joe DiVincenzo, the county executive of surrounding Essex County, offered to help. He used the county’s triple-A bond rating to raise $120m. The city’s water department and its subcontractors soon blanketed Newark. A city ordinance allowed workers to replace pipes without the homeowners’ permission. (Three-quarters of Newark residents live in rented space, and tracking down landlords would have held things up.) Kareem Adeem, the head of the water department, says that had it not been for covid-19 the project would have gone even faster. It has been done not only at high speed but also at low cost—roughly $7,000 per line.”

7) Think Tanks: David Sirota has published The Citizens’ Guide To Holding The Powerful Accountable. [Sub required]

Education

8) NationalStudents flocked to cyber-charter schools this year. So did district revenue and federal relief funds, Governing reports. “Cyber school proponents and their critics agree on at least two things right now: that the pandemic is going to entrench remote learning in Pennsylvania, and that it will soon become much easier to assess the true cost of virtual education. Some students who sought refuge in cyber charters schools this year may return to their public schools if they reopen this fall. Whether that will translate into big enrollment fluctuations next year is ‘the biggest crystal ball question that cyber schools are dealing with right now,’ Hayden said. But public school advocates such as Spicka think that pupils across the state will expect some degree of remote education, even if they stay enrolled in a district school.”

9) National/IllinoisAFT President Randi Weingarten says “@ctulocal1 ratified an agreement to get high schoolers and educators back to school w/ safety mitigation factors and vaccine access 4 families. We all want in person learning.”

10) National/Texas: So where do P3s go to die when they fail? Right onto the public balance sheet, despite the dismissive ridicule risk warnings were met with back at deal time. [Sub required]

11) CaliforniaBeckie Cramer, president of the Pleasant Valley School District Board of Education in Camarillo, pushes back against a “hyperbolic” column by Dan Walters that asserts children in the Los Angeles Unified School District are being “damaged” by the pandemic. “Mr. Walters repeatedly quotes a report produced by Great Public Schools Now, a Los Angeles-focused nonprofit organization whose mission includes expanding charter school enrollment of students in LA Unified. While we can all agree that the COVID pandemic disrupted education around the globe, using a biased narrative about one school district to pronounce all of California’s children ‘damaged’ is absurd. Mr. Walters’ determination obscures the fact that Californians have a significant degree of control over their local schools.”

12) Colorado: The Colorado Education Association (CEA) has run a digital week of action to “tell Gov. Jared Polis and our General Assembly that everyone—especially large corporations—should pay their fair share, and funding our public schools MUST be a top priority.”

13) District of Columbia: The Washington Post reports that the D.C. Public Charter School Board will consider the opening of five new charter campuses today—“even as public school enrollment in the city is slightly down during the pandemic and campuses in the traditional public and charter sectors are operating under capacity. It’s a question the board, which authorizes charter campuses, faces each year: Just how many new charter schools should open in the city?” 

The push back has already come. “But at the public meeting, several board members questioned whether there were enough students to support these schools and the other recently approved charter schools. Members of the D.C. Council and State Board of Education have also pushed back against the opening of new schools in their wards. Eboni Rose-Thompson, the Ward 7 representative on the State Board of Education, wrote a letter to the charter board saying some of the schools that are applying in her ward would be offering programs that already exist in the area with vacant seats.”

14) New York: Left Voice says New York City Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang is “an anti-union warrior” for school privatization. “In an interview with Politico, Yang said, “I will confess to being a parent that has been frustrated by how slow our schools have been to open, and I do believe that the UFT has been a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open.” Conservative newspapers such as the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal have praised Yang’s “brave” positions toward teachers unions, part of an ongoing trend of distrusting unions and, by extension, the rank and file who compose them.”

15) New YorkThree school districts on Long Island are opposing a charter school being proposed for Central Islip. “Officials in Bay Shore, Brentwood and Central Islip strongly oppose an effort by South Shore Charter School to start an elementary school. A charter school had been proposed in the region about five years ago, but the application was withdrawn after vocal opposition. (…) Robert Feliciano, Brentwood’s school board president, said in a statement that a charter school would take ‘funds away from our schools’ and ‘have a negative impact on our district’s programming and students’ educational opportunities.’”

16) Oklahoma: The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board has voted unanimously “to request an investigative audit of Santa Fe South Charter Schools, whose superintendent is also in charge of a nonprofit development corporation that supports Santa Fe South and loaned $300,000 to another local charter school.” Santa Fe South will become the third prominent charter school to have undergone an investigative audit in recent years.

17) TexasTexas AFT reports that a charter school bill backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) is moving forward. “SB 28 passed the Senate last week, but the fight continues to stop this bad bill in the House.  This bill among others would pave the way for rapid charter-school expansion by allowing charters special perks not available to real public schools with elected governance. SB 28’s House companion, HB 3279, would completely eliminate the authority of our elected State Board of Education to veto bad charter applications, instead giving the unelected commissioner of education all authority to approve new charters (with no elected oversight at either the local or state level).”

Infrastructure

18) National: With trillions of public dollars potentially heading towards them, the infrastructure industry is girding its loins for an inevitable battle over how responsible its project selections, management practices and corporate governance will be. Infrastructure Investor focused in on how private equity managers should be responding to the challenge. The sector is, e.g., wringing its hands over “How far will Biden go on NEPA reform?” [Sub required]. For critical overviews see “ESG Greenwashing—Improving Society or Improving Public Relations Campaigns?” and “Green Investing Is a Sham.”

19) National: The New York Times has come down strongly in favor of making tax-dodging companies pay for Biden’s infrastructure plan. “Instead of using an alternative minimum tax to patch problems with the primary tax code, Congress can directly address the use of existing tax breaks. The necessary changes can and should be achieved under a single corporate income tax structure. Raise the statutory rate, crack down on the use of foreign tax havens and buy the nation something nice.”

20) National: A national debate is underway over how to pay for whatever infrastructure plan eventually emerges from Congress. Some argue that a hike in the corporate tax rate should fund the program, while the corporations and think tanks of the road privatization industry favor a vehicle miles traveled tax, which is far more regressive. A list of many of the latter can be found on a letter the road construction lobby wrote to Congress last Tuesday

21) National: In case you were wondering, the municipal bond industry is dead set against “taxing job creators” and wants the cap on private activity bonds raised.

22) National: Irene Jiang, a reporter at the Insider, says there’s a reason “highways do not go in straight lines.” Racism is built into American infrastructure. “Now, [Cate Mingoya, the director of capacity building at Groundwork USA] works to empower residents of neighborhoods like the one she grew up in to advocate for a healthy environment for their communities. Mingoya agrees with Secretary Buttigieg: racism is built into our roads. And though the people who designed the last century’s racist infrastructure are long gone, that infrastructure still exists today, Mingoya said. The government finally has an opportunity to update the country’s transportation infrastructure to serve all communities, Mingoya said. To do that, it needs to address historical racial inequities. ‘People get really touchy when we talk about race because it’s personal. How can it not be? Racial inequity is a defining feature of American culture,’ she said.” 

23) National/International: Public interest groups are warning that a massive wave of water and wastewater infrastructure privatization will be fueled by the merger of Veolia and Suez. “‘Veolia’s plan to dominate public water services all across the globe is becoming a terrifying reality,’ Mary Grant, the director of Food & Water Watch’s Public Water for All campaign, said in a statement. ‘The merger of the world’s largest water corporations will erode any semblance of competition for water privatization deals. This lack of competition will worsen our water affordability crisis, eliminate good union jobs, and open the door to cronyism and corruption.’ ‘Water privatization,’ Grant continued, ‘has been a disaster for communities across the United States and around the world.’” 

24) National: Among the thorny issues surrounding the infrastructure package is what to do with the cap on  federal tax deductions for state and local taxes. The issue has divided Democrats, with progressive such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opposing the lifting of the Trump-era cap and Democrats such as Kirsten Gillibrand supporting the move.  Ocasio-Cortez said lawmakers should not be “holding the infrastructure hostage” for a repeal of the tax changes. “Personally, I can’t stress how much that I believe that is a giveaway to the rich.” But Republican Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R) says “the Salt cap penalizes working class Long Islanders. From firefighters to police officers, to teachers, to nurses, and small business owners, I hear from people every day about what a crushing blow the Salt cap has delivered them.” [Sub required] 

25) National/Texas: The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is urging the state of Texas to winterize its electrical grid after February’s $130 billion storm damage. “Though the total cost of the winter storm could exceed $100 billion, the costs of winterizing electricity production should be viewed within the perspective of value of lost load. Using our VOLL estimate of $4.3 billion, and accounting for the once-a-decade frequency of subzero temperatures in Texas, winterizing measures and other actions should be equal to or less than $430 million annually. Based on our analysis, the most reasonable solutions to prevent winter storm blackouts are within the bounds of being economically justified.” 

26) MarylandA third attempt to tighten up Maryland’s poorly designed so-called public private partnership legislation has failed, setting the state and taxpayers up for another P3 project disaster like the one that bedeviled the light rail Purple Line. The bill would have required more scrutiny of P3s. on. Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery) said he will seek changes to the P3 law, for a fourth time, next year. So, to answer a question posed by Maryland Sierra Club State Director Josh Tulkin in a superb and hard hitting Maryland Matters piece, yes the Senate now co-owns Hogan’s I-270/I-495 highway boondoggle. “I am sharing this history not to persuade, but to bear witness, and to ensure that when this project implodes (and it will!) that no legislator will attempt to claim ‘we didn’t know.’ They are not only complicit, but culpable. For over four years, there have been hundreds of articles, official letters and comments, research and even official reports provided directly to the General Assembly, highlighting the environmental, economic and procedural folly of this project. If they fail to act, let history remember that they knew.” They failed, and history will remember.

27) Maryland: Two weeks ago Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg saying that the project design for the privately tolled I-270/I-495 managed tolls project doesn’t address the severe need for transit resources and facilities.

“‘This project will do little to address the sources of congestion in the long-term. Modern transportation planning shows that road-widening only induces demand, limiting the benefit of extra roadway. The best way to address the Capital area’s traffic problems is to create options to take cars off the road, with public transit and other solutions,’ wrote Congressman Brown. ‘Building additional roadways only encourages people to drive and does not address the source of traffic.’ Congressman Brown continued, ‘These concerns, among others, have created significant community opposition to this plan. I have hosted events with my constituents and spoken with stakeholders, all of whom hold serious reservations about the wisdom of widening the Beltway to include toll lanes. The experience of Virginia shows that these tolls can be upwards of $40 a trip, far from an equitable price point.”

Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker has also called for the state to consider more transit options for the Capital Beltway expansion project. “Opponents of the project have consistently voiced concerns about uncertain environmental impacts, a lack of transit plans, and the potential failure of another public-private partnership, such as the one that fell apart for the Purple Line project. Hucker said the county has asked for repairs to the American Legion Bridge for years, but officials have also asked for Hogan to invest in the transitway and other transit infrastructure, and he has declined.”

Hucker also said “I’ll just add that this is the same MDOT that mismanaged the Purple Line project and created substantial delay and $250 million in additional costs that are going to be borne by taxpayers. Of course it’s reasonable to think that the public lacks confidence in this leadership at MDOT to manage a far bigger and out-of-balance project as the managed lanes project has been drawn out.”

28) International: Water privatization in the United Kingdom amounted to a pass through of taxpayers’ money to corporate shareholders. “Research by Greenwich University has shown that water companies had taken on £51bn in borrowings and paid out £56bn in dividends by 2018 after being privatised free of debt in 1989. This suggested that the bulk of borrowings were used to pay returns rather than invest in network infrastructure.” 

29) Think Tanks: The Brookings Institution held a “Cafeteria Podcast” on Friday on “Betting on the Future With Infrastructure.” The guests were Adie Tomer, Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development at Brookings. Adie Tomer struck an optimistic note. “We consistently see on Capitol Hill,” he said, “that whether it’s an isolated water resources bill or a surface transportation bill, or what this could be, this kind of newly minted omnibus infrastructure bill, they always get over the finish line. And no one ever talks about, you know, exactly where the money was going to come from. You know what they talk about? Hey, we’re gonna rebuild America a little bit more. And that’s the part that we need to focus on, especially when we’re talking really big infrastructure agenda here. Sell people on a vision, sell people on their better life in the future. They will be willing to spend on it. And again, survey data confirms that.” [Transcript]

Criminal Justice and Immigration

30) National: As outrage over police violence spreads across the country, what’s the situation with private policing? StudentNation has a good overview of one corner of the story: the battle to get private cops off campus. “Students have been making these demands for years now, and not just for local police. Students have to deal with both municipal and campus cops, and so do the people who live around university grounds. And campus have only become more professionalized and militarized in the paste decade. They are frequently armed, equally as violent as regular cops, and—especially at private universities— not burdened with the same expectation of transparency. These are complaints shared by students across the country. To this end, we asked students at universities that have led the way in campus police abolition movements to tell us about what they’ve been doing to hold their universities’ police departments accountable.

31) NationalCoreCivic has settled a 2016 shareholder lawsuit. “The company will pay $56M in return for dismissal of the case with prejudice and a full release of all claims against all defendants, including the current and former officers. The suit was filed after the company’s stock price sank following a Aug. 18, 2016 Department of Justice memorandum instructed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reduce and ultimately end the use of privately operated prisons.”

32) NationalAlternatives to juvenile justice probation are growing in many states, a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures finds. “With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, NCSL created an online statutory compilation of juvenile probation laws called the Juvenile Probation Scan designed to provide policymakers information to examine and address juvenile probation policy. The scan compiles state juvenile probation statutes in an accessible format while providing explanation and analysis of the many aspects of juvenile probation.”

33) Alabama/WisconsinWhy is the Wisconsin public finance authority lending other people’s money to Alabama so it can build private prisons? “Barclays Capital is lead manager on the Series 2021A senior secured taxable private-activity revenue bonds and is expected to price the deal on Thursday. KeyBank Capital Markets and Stifel are co-managers. ADOC will lease the jails and the state will provide funds to pay off the loan on the prisons, which will be owned by CoreCivic Inc., the project’s sponsor on two of the three jails to be built. Under the lease agreements with the state, ADOC is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the prisons, including security and managing the inmates and employees.” [Sub required]

34) Illinois: The Chicago Maroon, an independent student newspaper at the University of Chicago, is demanding that the university disbands its private police force. “Though the UCPD traces its origins to armed security guards for campus buildings hired in the 1930s, it took its current form in the 1960s and was fully certified as a law enforcement agency by 1989. Today UCPD officers patrol from South Cottage Grove Avenue to South Lake Shore Drive and from 37th Street to 64th Street. UCPD officers are a daily presence for the 65,000 people who live in this area—most of whom are not affiliated with the University of Chicago—and many of whom are Black. Residents in this extended patrol area with no relation to UChicago have limited ability to hold UCPD accountable, largely due to the UCPD’s standing as a private police force, which precludes their records from being subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. ”

35) Maryland: The Maryland legislature has voted to repeal the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which made it “extremely difficult to discipline and control police officers’ actions. This became a model for police rights across the country.” Although Johns Hopkins University “refuses to cancel its proposed private police force, we have seen signs of change. Amid the George Floyd protests, Hopkins announced a two-year suspension on implementing the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD). A new initiative, the Innovation Fund for Community Safety, was later established to support community-based alternatives to policing. The Maryland House of Delegates may also help in this regard; in February, they debated repealing the laws that gave Hopkins permission to establish the JHPD in the first place.”

Public Services

36) National: The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold a hearing this Thursday on President Joe Biden’s three nominees to serve on the U.S. Postal Board of Governors. USPS’ recently announced ten year plan “has drawn criticism from many U.S. lawmakers including some calling for the board to fire Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and others who have urged Biden to remove the existing board members. (…) Representative Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the committee overseeing USPS, has circulated draft legislation that would eliminate a requirement USPS pre-fund retiree health benefits. It also would require postal employees to enroll in government-retiree health plan Medicare.” For more see Erik Sherman’s article last year offering “7 Reasons Why Privatizing The Postal System Is Ridiculous And Foolish.”

37) National/New York: Westchester County Executive George Latimer has sent his federal legislative requests to the federal delegation that represents Westchester County. Among the requests: “Westchester County opposes the block granting and/or privatization of programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security that would result in people losing benefits, adding to their financial stress, and thereby turning to other social service programs for needed support.”

38) Massachusetts: Republican Governor Charlie Baker “has sent Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation back to the State House with negative amendments. These include one that would exclude municipal workers.” SEIU Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues says “the governor’s proposed amendments are unacceptable. During the COVID-19 crisis, workers should not be going in to work when they may have been exposed to the virus or may even be sickened by it.” The coalition that backs the legislation urged lawmakers “to move quickly to return legislation that covers all workers, including municipal employees, to the governor’s desk.” The coalition “noted that the Legislature had unanimously passed the sick leave bill — which would allow all Massachusetts workers to access five days of emergency paid sick time for COVID-related sickness, quarantine, caregiving, and vaccination.”

39) International: The global mega-privatizing bank/financial company Macquarie has just gobbled up an Australian waste management company. “With origins as a family owned dumpster business in Western Sydney, Bingo now operates the largest network of recycling and resource recovery centers in the states of New South Wales and Victoria, according to the company’s website.”

Everything Else

40) National: Bill Lucia of Route Fifty wrote an interesting piece recently that identifies the riskiest ‘smart city’ technologies, according to cybersecurity experts. “The findings suggest insiders with ready access to computer systems and foreign nations would be among the most effective at carrying out attacks on these types of smart city targets. That’s opposed to ‘hacktivists,’ terrorists, thrill-seekers or other online criminals.” So should news that Gov. Larry Hogan’s I-270/I-495 privately managed, multibillion toll lanes project is involved in a deal with a Google spinoff to create a “future ready road” [sub required] raise concerns about large scale data mining of the public on the roads?

41) NationalThe role of private, for profit surveillance companies is meeting greater opposition, The Economist reports. Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS) “drones flew over parts of Baltimore, most recently in May-October 2020. St Louis, among America’s most violent cities, also considered but is poised to reject PSS’s services, which raise difficult questions about how much surveillance Americans are willing to tolerate in exchange for the promise of safer streets. (…) But the ACLU of Maryland, which champions civil liberties, along with an activist group from Baltimore, has sued Baltimore’s police department, alleging its aerial-surveillance programme impinged on citizens’ constitutional rights. The police department prevailed, both in the initial case and on appeal, but the case has since been reargued. In St Louis, says Mr. Snyder, ‘privacy activists…were ready and waiting, and put together a really strong campaign.’”

42) National/International: “Biden isn’t ending the Afghanistan War, he’s privatizing it,” writes Jeremy Kuzmarov. “One of the biggest mercenary companies is DynCorp International of Falls Church Virginia, which as of 2019 had received over $7 billion in government contracts to train the Afghan army and manage military bases in Afghanistan. From 2002 to 2013, DynCorp received 69 percent of all State Department funding. Forbes Magazine called it “one of the big winners of the Iraq and Afghan Wars”—the losers being almost everyone else.” 

Photo by Janne Moren.