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Weekly Privatization Report 9-11-2017

1) National: With hurricanes Harvey and Irma inflicting significant damage to infrastructure, President Trump’s abandonment of President Obama’s executive order that required federally-funded projects to be built two feet above the 100-year floodplain “looks incredibly short-sighted,” as the NRDC’s Scott Slesinger said recently. “Rather than address the need for dollars to build our water, transportation and other failing infrastructure, Congress blames the requirement to evaluate the environmental and community impact of a project, as the major reason for project delays. Study after study has proven that is not the case and the record is clear that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is not the cause of delay but improves projects as our website shows. The reason for delay—lack of funding, not regulation. In fact, NEPA improves projects and gives citizens sometimes the only opportunity to participate in activities that impact their community.” [Slesinger’s congressional testimony]

2) National: “Hurricane Harvey is only the latest reminder that the U.S. infrastructure is falling apart—a situation that become more urgent as the climate crisis bites harder,” says economist Doug Henwood. “Here’s a data series that goes a long way to explaining why. In simple English, the public sector is barely investing enough to keep up with normal decay, let alone doing anything to improve things.”

3) National/Revolving Door News: Here they come. Days before Irma made U.S. landfall, Dentons senior advisor and former Georgia House Speaker Mark Burkhalter uses hurricanes Harvey and Irma to plug ‘public private partnerships.’ The law firm says “Dentons’ lawyers have deep-rooted experience with PPPs. We have assisted public owners, concessionaires, lenders and contractors with all aspects of PPP arrangements across a broad range of infrastructure sectors.” Disaster privatization?

4) National: The Trump administration has begun its campaign for corporate pharmaceutical deregulation by announcing it is opening a multi-docket comment process. The changes will affect millions of citizens and tens of thousands of corporations. The lawyers are already lining up.

5) National: A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling means that churches can now issue tax exempt bonds for “secular projects,” including charter schools. “The new opportunity as a result on the Missouri decision, Rolfs said, may be for churches to sponsor charter schools because public education could be considered a public service. ‘I think this case opens the door for religious organizations to potentially open and operate charter schools on a state by state basis depending on what states are authorizing,’ he said.” [Sub required]

6) National: Public Goods Post says defend our public libraries. “Privatizing public libraries does not mean that taxpayers stop paying the cost. No. What it means is that the operation of the library is contracted out to a private, for-profit corporation. Taxpayers keep paying—but in order to meet the profit requirements of the newly engaged private operator, one of two things must happen: either the cost to taxpayers must go up or the quality of services must go down.” See Free for All: Inside the Public Library, “a multi-platform project about America’s most beloved institution, where doors are open to all and everything is free.”

7) National/Louisiana: The issue of whether charter school teachers are public or private employees, and thus come under the purview of the NLRB, has been appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit. “On the surface, this case is about an arcane question of federal agency jurisdiction; in reality, it is about union busting, plain and simple,” says Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

8) National: The Project on Government Oversight looks at the mounting litigation against immigration detainees being exploited in “voluntary work” schemes in for-profit lockups run by prison companies, such as the GEO Group and CoreCivic. Some say it is tantamount to slavery. “Meanwhile, the companies in question have crafted a lucrative business model in which the U.S. government pays them billions of dollars to operate federal detention centers. While the companies promise to bring jobs and other economic benefits to the communities where they set up shop, many experts say these promises are overblown because the companies rely on low-paid detainee labor instead.” POGO says, “many of these lawsuits will play out as the Administration ramps up its enforcement of immigration laws, including the possible end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—which protects 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation—indicating that the number of people held in detention centers will likely increase in the coming years.”

The Miami New Times has reported that the American Civil Liberties Union says the GEO Group “is torturing whistleblowers at its private immigration detention facility in Aurora, Colorado. GEO runs the facility on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

In the Public Interest’s Donald Cohen writes that private companies are poised to profit from the possible ending of DACA. “They see policies like ending DACA as an ‘opportunity’ to build more immigration detention centers ‘throughout the country rather than only clustered along the southern border.’” According to its recently released Second Quarter 2017 investor Presentation, CoreCivic receives 26% of its revenue from ICE.

9) NationalFederal Times reporter Adam Stone says the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s blueprint to gut federal regulatory and service agencies—and, e.g., to privatize the very busy National Weather Service—“would have a sweeping impact on the federal jobs landscape.” Stone writes, “to call this an incremental plan is a little like calling Dunkirk a minor skirmish.” Koch-funded CEI is led by Kent Lassman, a former FreedomWorks Inc. lobbyist and adviser to ALEC and the State Policy Network.

10) Arizona: The president of the Arizona Education Association, Joe Thomas, says the biggest myth about charter schools is that there is a “special sauce.” Thomas says “anybody who is in a classroom knows charter schools aren’t doing anything different. Their teachers aren’t teaching in an amazingly different style—they’re not engaging students any differently than district schools. You just have a different caliber of student going to some charters.”

11) Florida: As Miami-Dade residents begin recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma, public transportation is under the gun. The county is trying to make massive cuts to the transit budget, and is being fought by the Transit Alliance Miami. Marta Viciedo, the founder of the group, “fears that once the plan goes into effect October 1, many commuters—especially lower-income workers—will be ‘blindsided’ when it becomes more difficult to get to their jobs every day.” Viciedo says “the influx of Uber and Lyft hasn’t resulted in lower public transit ridership… rather, the poor quality of public transit has forced commuters to resort to ridesharing services.”

12) Florida: Local elections matter to protect the public interest. “These supervisors want to privatize the ‘free’ lab program, which would not only make these services unavailable to many small farms and nurseries but could also result in the loss of local [Palm Beach County Soil and Water Conservation District] jobs. Fortunately, the Mobile Irrigation Lab program was recently rescued by a narrow vote margin and will remain a functional water and money-saving program for county residents, at least for now.”

13) Maryland/National: Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Purple Line light transit ‘public private partnership’ project on August 28, although it remains the subject of a federal lawsuit. But some residents and officials are complaining that they are being kept in the dark about the Purple Line’s construction plans. “Local officials say they were blindsided last week when the state’s contractor abruptly closed the popular Georgetown Branch Trail in Montgomery County for four to five years of construction after less than a week’s notice. (…) One day after the ‘Trail Closed’ signs appeared, word spread that state officials had recently—and quietly—agreed to change the project’s voluminous contract to cut from 30 days to seven the amount of time required to notify the public in advance of certain construction work. That change prompted criticism from even longtime Purple Line supporters, who say they’re worried the public is being kept in the dark on a construction project that will affect hundreds of thousands of people.”

14) Kansas: A selection committee has chosen Edgemoor to lead the $1 billion Kansas City Airport public private partnership terminal project. Edgemoor “touted its flexibility on financing and said a range of tax-exempt, private, and ‘innovative’ options are on the table.” The Bond Buyer reports that “the City Council must approve the firm’s selection and a final contract and some members have said they have questions over the selection process. Voters also will have the final word with the project going before local voters on a special Nov. 7 ballot to decide whether to proceed with the consolidation of three terminals into one at Kansas City International Airport.” The Edgemoor team includes Meridiam, Clark Construction Group, Weitz, and Clarkson Construction. Losing bidders included AECOM and Jones Lang LaSalle. [Sub required]

15) New Mexico: The state has agreed to pay over $100,000 to settle a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit over chronic understaffing in the health department. “Instead of filling vacant positions with new employees, the supervisors insisted on hiring outside contractors to perform the work, which resulted in needless additional costs to the taxpayers,” said a lawsuit brought by Amber Espinosa-Trujillo, former head of the New Mexico Department of Health’s Facility and Licensing Certification Bureau.

16) Ohio: Columbus looks into privatizing its public works department, again. Public Works Director Casey Bush “said he still does not support contracting out the city’s public works services. He said about 80 percent of his 66 employees live in city limits, and many work to support their families. He expressed concern about an outside company caring for his workers and their families’ wellbeing. ‘They’re in the business of making money,’ he said. ‘I understand that. The only way I can see them saving the city money is cutting my guys’ insurance and retirement packages. I’ve been through these companies coming in before,’ Bush added. ‘They come in and sure enough, they hire them (the workers) back, but the insurance and benefits will be higher because there’s no way they can provide the same insurance we provide.’”

17) Pennsylvania: Under the threat of outsourcing—beginning with custodians—the Mars Area Support Professional Association approves a new contract which eliminates healthcare for senior staffers (junior members have already lost their healthcare). “‘Don’t be those people who take healthcare from families,’ said Megan Lenz. ‘You are not going to get people to want to work here without health care.’ Candy Mathews, who was a paraprofessional for seven years, said she left the district in April because she feared losing her family health care coverage. In 2012, she voted against the contract because ‘I didn’t want people to have less than what I had. You should all be ashamed of yourselves,’ she said. ‘It is a shame how great this district could be if you could just respect the support staff instead of bullying them.’”

18) Pennsylvania: The Teamsters weigh in against privatization of the jail in Berks County, and call for measure to address understaffing and dangerous conditions, and “a committee of officers, administrators, and prison board members to discuss a new jail without arbitration.”

19) Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia School Partnership, a major financial backer of charter schools, is trying to raise more funding. The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools says the “Philadelphia School Partnership’s past and present boards have been composed of investment bankers, realtors, hedge fund managers, philanthropists and lobbyists. In its complaint to the Philadelphia Board of Ethics regarding lobbying activity by the Philadelphia School Partnership, Parents United for Public Education stated that “…a number of PSP’s current board members and known funders have direct stakes in organizations and policies supported by PSP’s investments in Catholic schools and charter school expansion (including construction, management, or investment in charter schools and related contracts).” All but three of PSP’s nineteen board members live outside of Philadelphia.”

20) Pennsylvania: Emails released under freedom of information regulations show that Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski had close ties with developer Ramzi Haddad, who wanted a zoning approval to enable a charter school lease. “After Pawlowski expedited the zoning hearing, emails show, Haddad asked for three other favors to get the proposed Executive Education Academy Charter School off the ground. Haddad asked Pawlowski for a letter of support to the Zoning Hearing Board for his proposed tenant, an appearance by a city employee at the zoning meeting and to hurry up the city permitting process for the school. Emails show Pawlowski complied with at least two of those requests.”

21) South Carolina: As the SC&G nuclear reactor scandal plumbs new depths of corporate malfeasance, taxpayer gouging, and fiscal irresponsibility, the SC Progressive Network puts its finger on the real issue: “Those blaming SCE&G for shaking down consumers are chasing the wrong culprit. SCE&G is an investor-owned monopoly run by large banks and investment funds whose mission is to make money for its stockholders. It was no surprise, then, that they took advantage of an opportunity to socialize the risk and privatize the profit of building nuclear reactors. That’s what profit-driven corporations do.” [SC Progressive Network]

22) International: The Center for Global Development issues preliminary results of a study of the effects of outsourcing on Liberia’s educational system. The operations of Bridge International Academies were addressed. “After one year, public schools managed by private contractors in Liberia raised student learning by 60 percent, compared to standard public schools. But costs were high, performance varied across contractors, and contracts authorized the largest contractor to push excess pupils and underperforming teachers onto other government schools.” National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL) President Mary Mulbah said, “the negative findings of this report may explain the minister’s rush to expand the privatization program. What is most disturbing is that in many instances the improved student outcomes were achieved by pushing out students from schools on the ‘trial.’ In some cases this has resulted in children being left out of school.”

23) Revolving Door News: President Trump has nominated Paul Trombino III to lead the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which has significant responsibilities in the area of infrastructure ‘public private partnerships.’ Trombino is president of the McClure Engineering Company, and was formerly director of the Iowa DOT and Bureau Director of the Wisconsin DOT, and is a former president of AASHTO. Trombino wants “to expand the public-private partnership initiatives beyond mere transportation finance concepts.” He told a congressional committee, “from the State of Iowa, two things. The first thing that I would point out is, one, we are a pay-as-you-go State. We don’t bond at all at the state level. We have no bonding at all on the transportation system.”

24) Think Tanks: Writing in The Nation, NYU historian Kim Phillips-Fein reviews Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, which documents and analyzes important aspects of the libertarian right’s decades-long fight against democracy, racial justice, and the principles supporting public goods and the public interest. “Obviously the Kochs, Buchanan, and their ilk have played a significant role in helping influence elections and policy-making,” writes Phillips-Fein. “Their pools of money and their ideas have transformed the political terrain in countless ways. Writing about their activism, as MacLean does in her timely and thought-provoking book, is one way to demystify and contest it. But there is also a danger in charting the rise of the right as though it has simply unfolded from a ‘stealth plan’ to political reality: It can make it seem almost impossible to resist, and history doesn’t work that way—not even for the Kochs.”

25) Upcoming meeting: The Network for Public Education will be having its fourth annual meeting in Oakland on October 14-15. Includes panels on “School Privatization Explained: How to Communicate to Parents and Policy Makers about the Takeover of Public Schools and How to Fight Back,” “Community Schools as a Bulwark Against Privatization,” “Lessons from Nebraska, a red state that has so far staved off school privatization,” and “What We Know About School Privatization.”

Legislative Issues

1) National: The surprise deal between Trump and congressional Democrats on the debt ceiling and government funding is raising questions about whether a bipartisan deal could be reached on infrastructure funding. The Wall Street Journal says “clues to the limits of an alliance between Mr. Trump and Democrats” may show up as deal-making on infrastructure gains pace. It’s anyone’s guess how this will turn out, with congressional Republicans, and members of the Trump administration holding out for private and state and local financing of infrastructure, and the Democrats wanting a significant portion of the program to be funded with new federal public money. Perhaps the Gateway Project is a template?

2) National: A floor vote on the House FAA bill may come on Wednesday or Thursday, according to Bill Schuster (R-PA). The bill contains Schuster’s proposal to transfer air traffic control from federal hands to an industry-dominated nonprofit, which has attracted widespread criticism. But the right wing never seems to be satisfied. The American Conservative Union Foundation has come out in opposition to Schuster’s bill, saying its privatization measures don’t go far enough, specifically that it doesn’t meet ACU’s “Seven Principles of Privatization that establish a framework necessary to declare whether an entity is actually privatized.” Some Dems may be jumping ship too: last week the House FAA bill got its third Democratic co-sponsor: Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.

Four veteran NASA astronauts have called on constituents to contact their members of congress and tell them to oppose ATC privatization. “‘These astronauts were motivated to speak out on this important issue because they understand just how important a smoothly operating air traffic control system is to our country,’ said ICAS President John Cudahy. ‘They know that engagement by citizens and voters is the best way to stop this self-serving power grab by the airlines.’” [Video]

3) National: The defense bill passed by the House and working its way through the legislative process would radically alter the way the government purchases goods and services, effectively privatizing the process and sidelining the GSA. “But some worry that the legislation allows the government to select marketplaces “without the use of full and open competition” and provides few details on how those agreements should be structured. (…) Others worry the bill will make procurement more opaque even as it seeks to remake the process in the name of transparency.”

4) National: The House has rejected a right wing effort to cut off federal subsidies to Amtrak. “While Diaz-Balart diplomatically called Brooks ‘sincere,’ the Florida Republican said that eliminating Amtrak’s federal subsidies would actually result in higher costs.”

5) New York: A bill has been proposed in the Suffolk County legislature to suspend the county’s red light camera program pending a study. “Some critics claim the county has shortened the timing of yellow lights, increasing the danger. Others claimed that outside contractors pick intersections based on potential for revenue, not safety, and that the county failed to have engineers sign off timing of lights, charges the county denies. ‘I encourage you to vote for suspension,’ said Arthur Petriello, another speaker. ‘I’m one of thousands who has slammed on their brakes at the shortened yellow lights.’”

 

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