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Weekly Privatization Report 1-8-2018

1) National: Private sector sanitation workers “face some of the harshest and most dangerous conditions in American industry, and there’s no outcry because they’re largely low-paid immigr­ants hidden away on the graveyard shift.” Bloomberg details how “America’s Worst Graveyard Shift Is Grinding Up Workers.” For-profit prison companies that contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are likely benefitting from the intensified raids against low-paid workers and their families: “Gonzalez wants to stay in Alabama another year or two to finish paying off the family’s home in Guatemala, where his wife and youngest son still live. But he worries the decision won’t be his to make in an era of highly publicized ICE raids. ‘We just work and sleep and stay off the street,’ he says. ‘What choice is there?’” Private equity is also profiting from the misery: “This November—35 months and at least 19 amputations later—Packers refinanced its loans and paid its investors a dividend of $339 million.”

Also, in a powerful new article, ProPublica takes us through “the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection.” Kiera Feldman of the Investigative Fund reports, “in New York City overall, private sanitation trucks killed seven people in 2017. By contrast, city municipal sanitation trucks haven’t caused a fatality since 2014.” One reason: “Powerful AFL-CIO-affiliated unions like the Laborers and the Teamsters were edged out of private garbage operators. They were replaced by ‘independent unions’ that cut sweetheart deals with employers, locking employees into jobs with low wages and poor benefits. One example is a union called LIFE 890, which represents workers at major New York City garbage companies including Boro-Wide Recycling, Liberty Ashes and Five Star Carting.”

Unionized public sector sanitation workers have a long history of standing up and fighting back, which the right wing is now trying illegalize in the Supreme Court.This year, the I Am 2018 campaign will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike to demand fair wages and safe working conditions. “That spring, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to join the strikers—members of AFSCME Local 1733—in solidarity. On April 3, he delivered his prophetic ‘Mountaintop’ speech at the historic Mason Temple, the global headquarters of Church of God In Christ (COGIC). Less than 24 hours later, he was killed. On April 2-4, 2018, AFSCME, COGIC, and civil, human and workers’ rights leaders will gather in Memphis for a series of events honoring Dr. King’s legacy and the courage and sacrifice of the sanitation workers. This is more than a commemoration; it is a call to action. The I AM 2018 campaign, whose theme is taken from the strikers’ iconic slogan, ‘I AM A MAN,’ will train and mobilize activists to make change in their communities in 2018 and beyond. The initiative will include organizing, community actions and strategic partnerships.”

In the Supreme Court Janus case, AFSCME has until January 12 to file briefs on the merits of its arguments, and labor supporters have until January 19 to file their amicus briefs. Oral arguments will be heard on February 26.

2) National: As the Trump administration presses ahead with its crackdown on immigration, which critics say is marked by cruelty, racism, heartlessness, andprivate corporate profiteering, ICE acting director Thomas Homan calls for the arrest of elected political leaders who don’t cooperate, in his opinion, with his agency. Gov. Jerry Brown of California responded, “We’d encourage this individual to better educate himself on what laws in California do and don’t do before frothing and fearmongering on Fox News. A good place to start is the Governor’s SB 54 signing message.” The crackdown is already helping the bottom lines of private, for-profit prison companies, whose political contributions dramatically spiked in the past two years.

3) National: Julia Conley of Common Dreams reports that private, for-profit prison corporations “will see major tax cuts under the new Republican tax law, making the unpopular law beneficial for those who count on the country’s mass incarceration crisis for financial gain. Investments in for-profit prisons will go from 39.6 to 29.6 percent, thanks to the industry’s [REIT] classification within the tax code.” See also this piece by Jamiles Lartey.

4) National: As right wing ideologues, augmented by Trumpian tweets, plow on with their long crusade to privatize the U.S. Postal Service, economist Dean Baker introduces a dose of factual reality into the discussion. “The Postal Service has a huge amount of fixed costs in the form of retiree benefits and especially retiree health benefits. Congress has required that the Postal Service prefund 75 years of retiree health benefits. This requirement sets the Postal Service apart from private businesses, who do little or no prefunding of retiree health benefits. It also accounts for almost all of the Postal Service’s losses over the last decade.” The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) puts the issue in context for 2018: “Powerful special interests have been eyeing public assets that belong to the American people. AFGE members will continue to block privatization efforts and efforts to convert work to other labor sources at various agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, Bureau of Prisons, TSA, and FAA.”

5) National: Will Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ ending of Obama’s tolerant attitude toward state-level marijuana reform play to GEO Group’s and CoreCivic’s bottom line? “There have been significant, recent efforts to reduce charges for minor drug offenders. Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill in the Senate that would be a large step toward decriminalizing marijuana. It is estimated that 40,000 inmates in the U.S. are incarcerated for marijuana and drug-related crimes. Thus, decriminalization of marijuana would reduce demand for GEO’s prisons.” [Sub required]

6) National: Kali Holloway of AlterNet reports that “computer programs are deciding how long people spend in jail.” She says “no one, save for the manufacturer, knows precisely how COMPAS’ proprietary algorithm works, and Northpointe has repeatedly declined to offer greater transparency. (…) As you might guess, the problems with this practice have proven myriad. The most glaring issue relates to the tendency of computer programs to replicate the biases of their designers. That means along with say, the ability to crunch data in the blink of an eye, racism and sexism are also built into our AI machines. A 2016ProPublica study found that COMPAS is ‘particularly likely to falsely flag black defendants as future criminals, wrongly labeling them this way at almost twice the rate as white defendants.’” Private prison companies and the many for-profit interests associated with the prison system stand to gain from longer sentencing.

7) National: Will the Trump infrastructure plan reach into poor rural areas in desperate need of infrastructure investment, or just back the kind of profitable big projects favored by yield-hungry private finance—which are concentrated in metro regions? Can revenue-poor local governments in these areas afford to put the “skin in the game” that Trump/GOP ‘public-private partnership’ advocates demand? See, e.g., the in-depth Wall Street Journal series on the gap between wealthier large cities and struggling small towns [Sub required].

Public Works Financing reports in its current issue that the Trump plan will direct half of the proposed $200 billion of new federal money to state and local governments, but these grants will be eligible to cover no more than 20% of project costs. [Public Works Financing, December 2017; p. 15; sub required]. Trumpexpects state and local governments to pony up $800 billion to reach his $1 trillion goal, all while adjusting to the revenue-damaging effects of the GOP/Trump tax law ending deductibility of state and local taxes, and to do the required long term planning in the midst of mass confusion over the law itself. Seriously?

8) National: Sullivan and Cromwell has issued a short briefing on the infrastructure provisions of the Trump/GOP tax bill passed on December 20.

9) National: As debates over net neutrality and the public-vs.-private provision of broadband continue, it is worth perusing the third volume of Bruce Kushnick’s three-volume history of what he says are the telecom industry’s broken commitments to the public over past decades.

10) National: Michelle Chen of The Nation gives us an update and overview of charter schools. “According to Carol Burris of [Network for Public Education], charter schools ‘want the funding and the privilege of public schools but they don’t want the rules that go along with them.’ She cites charter initiatives’ having developed their own certification policies, as well as disciplinary codes and academic standards—a tendency toward ‘wanting the best of both worlds’ among both non- and for-profit charter organizations.”

11) National: As infrastructure again (supposedly) takes center stage, a reminder of the environment within which infrastructure policy has been made and rolled out in the Trump administration, from Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury. “The next day, Tuesday, August 15 [2017], the White House had a news conference scheduled at Trump Tower. Bannon urged Kelly to cancel it. It was a nothing conference anyway. Its premise was about infrastructure—about undoing an environmental regulation that could help get projects started faster—but it was really just another effort to show that Trump was working and not just on a holiday. So why bother? What’s more, Bannon told Kelly, he could see the signs: the arrow on the Trump pressure cooker was climbing, and before long he’d blow.” The “news conference went ahead anyway,” but Trump “stayed on script for mere minutes. (…) ‘What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, alt-right? (…) I say there is blame on both sides.’” [pp. 295-6]

12) Arizona: In an historic victory for prisoners rights advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union—Arizona, Pima County has passed a resolution to prohibit contracting with private, for-profit companies for jail operations. “As states increasingly take steps to reduce prison populations, private prison companies are looking to make up lost revenues by exploiting other aspects of the incarceration industry, such as local jail management, halfway houses, and even “alternatives to incarceration,” like electronic monitoring.”

13) Arizona: Brianna Westbrook (D), a candidate in the eighth Congressional district  special election on February 27, is campaigning on ending private prisons. “Our government pays private prison corporations to set rates for each day their cells are occupied, just like hotels. When cells are occupied, they make more money for their shareholders. They support laws which imprison more people for longer periods. When our crime rate goes down, taxpayers make up the difference. Basing incarcerations on financial incentives violates our Constitution; this corrupt system highly victimizes America’s most vulnerable citizens.”

14) California: Karen Wolfe in AlterNet looks at how the charter schools issue is roiling Democratic politics in the state. “Los Angeles has long been a target of the privatizers. As the biggest school district in the country that elects its school board, it’s harder to control for the so-called education reformers, who seek to dismantle the public school system in order to create a marketplace of school choices, shifting billions of dollars in public moneys into private hands.”

15) Delaware: The price tag to taxpayers for settling lawsuits growing out of the February 2017 Vaughn prison uprising has risen to more than $7.55 million. “Much of the complaint rested on the state’s alleged failure to provide a safe working environment for its employees and long ignored staffing issues within the DOC and how these failures led to the incident on Feb. 1.” Delawareliberal.net comments, “We must be using that Chicago School of Economics Cost-Effectiveness Analysis. As in, it’s cheaper to pay out to families of those who died than pay for a corrections system that works and protects both the prisoners and the people who work there.”

16) Hawaii: The state Emergency Management Agency will be holding a workshop on “Maturing Public-Private Partnerships” on March 1-2. “An outcome of the workshop will be to address internal state/county public private partnerships and build a strong program for the future. Secondly, development of support teams will help address challenges during times of emergencies. The meeting will provide an opportunity for expanding the partnerships required to develop innovative techniques and strategies for integrated public-private partnerships.”

17) Indiana: Indiana blogger Doug Masson commends Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post report on the political history of school privatization in Indiana. The article is “well worth reading,” he says. “In the years since, we’ve discovered that private schools don’t yield better results and charter schools very often suffer from sketchy oversight. We need to re-commit ourselves to giving public schools the resources they need to thrive.”

18) Maryland: As desperate Baltimore residents resort to a GoFundMe drive to keep their kids from freezing in public schools, @dwatkinsworld says officials “should be ashamed of themselves.” All this as charter schools clamor for an even bigger slice of the city’s public education budget. But just a couple of weeks ago, city school officials “said that the strict application of the charter funding formula would create inequities and tighten the district’s budget to the point that they would be forced to cut services to students in traditional public schools.”

19) Maryland: The state has received 27 responses for information from potential bidders on its I-270 managed lanes ‘public private partnership’ proposal. “Ben Ross, chairman of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, said there’s ‘absolutely no way’ that the tolls for the project would be economically feasible for drivers. He argued that whatever traffic the toll lanes take away from the free lanes will be made up by other drivers using the now less congested lanes. That will definitely happen on I-495, which people now avoid during rush-hour times, he said. And while he said traffic on I-270 as a whole isn’t as bad as on I-495, he sees problems there as well.”

20) New Mexico: Cibola County faces bankruptcy, layoffs, and asset sales after bouncing a check to CoreCivic. “The county receives money from ICE and in turn sends payments to CoreCivic using the federal funds. Taylor said the county had dipped into $5.6 million of the ICE money and was still in need of another $2.6 million to cover a shortfall from the November payment.”

21) New York: Longtime activist Liza Featherstone weighs into the battle over whether Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy should expand in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. “School privatization schemes like Success can be defeated community by community, especially in places like Boerum Hill, where residents are committed to public schools that have served them well. But charters won’t go away until there is almost no demand for them, anywhere. And that won’t happen until we address the underlying problems in the public school system: racial and economic segregation, and uneven quality.”

22) Oklahoma: Oklahoma Watch reports that the state’s largest virtual charter school “reported staggering growth for 2017-18, adding more than 4,000 students to its roster. (…) Epic’s rampant growth and unconventional marketing tactics, such as giving out prizes for referrals of students, have raised eyebrows. The school also has recorded average to low school grades and low graduation rates.” On Friday, Tulsa World reported that virtual charter school growth “continues to net most of Oklahoma’s midyear state funding allocation,” and that Tulsa and Oklahoma City school districts “lost the most state aid dollars.”

23) Virginia: VDOT has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for design-build delivery of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. “The P3 option was reviewed and rejected on December 12 in a Public Sector Analysis and Competition report done as part of VDOT’s screening process. VDOT does not have authority to pursue an availability payment approach, leaving only demand-risk concessions for P3 comparison.” [Public Works Financing, December 2017; sub required]

24) WashingtonThe Seattle Times profiles Patrick D’Amelio, the new head of the Washington State Charter Schools Association. “D’Amelio’s association bills itself as dedicated to ‘systemically underserved students.’ But nationally, charters have a spotty record on that score.”

25) International: Carrie L. Mitchell and Katherine E. Laycock of the University of Waterloo draw some interesting connections between urban planning, privatization, and climate change. “The privatization of planning thwart[s] attempts to translate climate science to planning practice in globalizing cities. As such, we argue that planning for adaptation to climate change requires more than just more and better information. It requires tackling the fundamental contradictions of planning in complex, globalizing cities.”

Legislative Issues

1) National: Concern is mounting that the Republican/Trump tax law is creating the conditions for further austerity and privatization—perhaps even a revival of Bush’s effort to privatize social security. In voting against the bill, Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) said “this Republican bill hands trillions to the super rich, raises taxes on millions of everyday Americans, and sets the stage for the privatization and gutting of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. I voted no on this bill and will continue to vehemently oppose it in every way I can.”

2) National: A major battle over Trump’s infrastructure plan is looming in the next few weeks. Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest warns that public control of public infrastructure is at stake. “The plan will all but force states and local governments to privatize or even sell off infrastructure. Tax cuts have slowly opened the door to Wall Street, construction giants, and global water companies, who see enormous potential for profits. Some states and local governments have turned to expensive private financing, a.k.a., ‘public-private partnerships,’ and learned the hard way. Private financing often means higher tolls, parking rates, or water fees, lower labor standards, and less public control over decision-making once a project is up and running.”

Politico reports that behind the scenes in the White House, a “fierce debate” is raging between those who want to further gut the social safety net vs. those who want to strike an infrastructure deal with Democrats. “‘Infrastructure first,’ said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump ally. ‘I wouldn’t touch entitlements. There’s zero reason to pick a fight on any of those in an election year.’ But House Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly said he is determined to reform welfare. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, has publicly dismissed the idea.” Trump, McConnell and Ryan were supposedly working out their differences this weekend at Camp David, with Trump reportedly favoring making infrastructure the top priority for 2018.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (now a senior advisor to DLA Piper) and multiple groups are proposing to shore up the gas tax-funded Highway Trust Fund. “The groups include the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Bond Dealers of America, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, and the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, as well as the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers.” [Sub required]. But its prospects in Congress are cloudy considering the allergy right wing Republicans have to the idea of raising any taxes.

3) Alabama: The state is debating how much funding is needed to fix the crisis-ridden mental healthcare system in its prisons. Yellowhammernews.org reports that “the state submitted a proposed plan to the court in October that calls for doubling the mental health staff in its prisons, which would entail adding 125 full-time employees at an annual estimated cost of $10 million. More correctional officers would also be hired, with no cost yet provided. That plan is tied into lawmakers passing a bill to increase funding for Alabama prisons during the 2018 legislative session that begins on Jan. 9.” The Southern Poverty Law Center recently said that conditions have only gotten worse.

4) Hawaii: The P3 consulting industry seems on a roll in the state. State prison officials are “asking lawmakers for $1 million to study the potential for forming ‘public-private partnerships’ that could be used to help expand and modernize the crowded state correctional system.” Last month the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation hired Ernst & Young to “study the potential use of a public-private partnership for the remainder of the 20-mile elevated rail project.” The legislative session opens on January17.

5) Iowa: Iowans for Public Education has launched a petition drive to oppose school privatization. “As the Iowa legislature explores diverting more tax dollars away from public schools toward private education, your voice is needed now, more than ever.” See also the Parents for Great Iowa Schools’ website, which calls attention to proposals for a school vouchers system. “The ESA/Voucher will divert state taxpayer dollars from public school funding. Vouchers use taxpayer dollars to support schools that are exempt from tax dollar and educational standard oversights. Private schools are not required by law to accept all students. There are no safeguards against fraud, misuse and do not guarantee a child can afford a private education. ESA’s hurt our rural communities, low income families, and the 500,000+ public school students.”

6) Massachusetts: In the wake of findings of negligence by a contractor, a legislative hearing is likely to take place this month on the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system, says the Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates (COFAR). It is still to be decided “whether the committee would focus on the privatized system of DDS care and whether there might be more than one hearing.” COFAR “has urged legislators for several years to hold oversight hearings as part of a comprehensive legislative investigation of the DDS group home system. To date, no such investigation has been undertaken by the Legislature since the late 1990’s when the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee examined the group home system and found systemic problems with abuse, neglect, and financial irregularities.”

 

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