Soldiers with the Texas Army National Guard move through flooded Houston streets as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey continue to rise, Monday, August 28, 2017. More than 12,000 members of the Texas National Guard have been called out to support local authorities in response to the storm. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Zachary West)
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Weekly Privatization Report 9-5-2017

1) National: Hurricane Harvey presents a danger of tax cuts, deregulation, aging infrastructure, ignoring the environment, and the rhetoric of “limited government,” writes Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest. “We need to say it loud and clear, because here come the snake oil salesmen. Twelve years ago this month they invaded New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Republican leaders used historic flooding as an opening to help corporations and private investors profit from tragedy. Following a blueprint called ‘Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices,’ they hired private mercenary corporations, cut taxes, weakened labor laws, and eventually privatized the city’s public housing and most of its public schools.”

2) National: Detention Watch Network reports that “If DACA and TPS are terminated, more than a million more people will become vulnerable to detention & deportation.” For-profit prison and immigration detention corporations are eager to pad their bottom lines.

3) National: As Americans celebrate Labor Day, Rich Gulla, president of New Hampshire State Employees’ Association/SEIU Local 1984, bears witness to why we need unions. “Together, we make a difference. While I was working at the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, the department decided to privatize one of our warehouses. Despite being promised their jobs would be safe, warehouse workers soon discovered they would be replaced. Together, we met with management and demanded those who worked in the warehouse keep their jobs. Through our collective efforts, the management reversed course—saving multiple jobs in the process. A few weeks later, I was approached by a man on the street. Even though I didn’t know who he was, he thanked me for being his union steward and saving his job in the warehouse. As I pointed out to him, it was our strength in unity that paved the way for our success.”

4) National: The Sentencing Project issues a fact sheet on private prisons in the United States. “Currently, the federal Bureau of Prisons maintains the nation’s highest number of people managed under private prison custody. Changes in policy at the Department of Justice in 2017 that are likely to increase sentence length and expand prosecutions for drug and immigration offenses may contribute to the expansion of private facility contracting,” the report says. The states with the highest percent of incarcerated people in private prisons are New Mexico and Montana, with over 40%. The next three highest are Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Hawaii with over 20%. The two states with the highest number of people in private prisons in 2015 were Texas (14,293) and Florida (12,487).

5) National: Environmental reporter Jimmy Tobias looks into “the billionaire-backed campaign to deregulate, defund, and privatize our public lands. (…) Who’s behind these efforts? An eclectic mix of anarcho-capitalists, corporate apologists, and grinning ideologues. Allow me to introduce you to them.”

6) National/International: Macquarie Atlas Roads’ profits jump sharply. “The result largely reflected a revaluation gain of $375.6 million relating to its acquisition of a further 50 per cent stake in the Dulles Greenway toll road in Virginia, plus a share of earnings from its investment in the APRR highway in France.”

7) National: Trump administration officials met with some 150 state, local, and tribal transportation officials last Wednesday, and told them the White House’s infrastructure plan “will focus on providing incentives for public-private partnerships that can draw on private capital to finance, build, and operate roads, bridges, and airports.” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said “we’re looking at breaking this up into pieces. The largest piece of the package is going to be wrapped around incentives.” In addition, “states and cities will be encouraged to sell some of their infrastructure assets to the private sector to raise money for new roads and airports, Mulvaney said.” [Sub required]. Concerns persist that infrastructure privatization will lead to incentivized public asset looting, excessive tolling, taxpayer-supported private subsidies that will line the pockets of the P3 industry and banks, cutting environmental corners, and project cherry-picking that will disadvantage rural and low income families. See below for news on toll revolts in Texas and Australia.

8) National: A top flight conservative legal eagle, Brian Fitzpatrick, has surprised and vexed his right wing colleagues by coming out in firm support of class action lawsuits as a deterrent to bad corporate behavior. Perhaps we can expect a conservative amicus brief supporting the potential class action lawsuit against the GEO Group over unpaid labor in their for-profit ICE Aurora Processing Detention Center?

9) Illinois: The state charter school commission has announced the dates for a public hearing and commission meeting on a proposed Elgin charter school. The first hearing is this Thursday in Elgin. In June, the school board reversed its earlier decision and denied the proposed school approval. “A majority of the U46 board had several concerns with the contract that had been negotiated upon by the district and the charter group.”

10) Kansas: Kansas City voters will go to the polls on November 7 “to decide on a $1 billion public-private renovation of Kansas City International Airport following a decision by city officials to leave open the option of financing the project with airport revenue bonds.” Councilman Jermaine Reed says the ballot question “asks them should we build a new airport, but it also says that if there is a need for us to go out for any public funds that we will come back and make sure that there is voter approval for that as well.” [Sub required]

11) Louisiana/National: As recovery from Hurricane Harvey begins, Truthout reporter Mike Ludwig urges us to consider the experience of New Orleans public service workers. “Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ school cafeteria workers and janitors were unionized and enjoyed the same benefits as teachers, including paid vacation and time off during the summers, according to LaTanja Silvester, president of the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) office. After the storm devastated the city, the state took over the school board and began an unprecedented experiment in school privatization, dismantling the teachers union and firing 7,000 school employees in the process, many of them Black women. Cafeteria workers now work for competing contractors that offer varying pay scales and benefits. Sometimes, benefits like paid sick days aren’t offered at all.”

12) Louisiana: The Louisiana Supreme Court is set to hear arguments today in an important lawsuit over “whether new Type 2 charters—those authorized by state officials—can receive annual funding through Louisiana’s Minimum Foundation Program.” Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux says the use of MFP funds has had “an overwhelming and devastating financial impact on city and parish school systems around the state. This result makes it virtually impossible for those school systems to provide every child access to a 21st century education.”

13) Missouri: Missouri American Water has filed for a surcharge increase with the public utilities commission for infrastructure replacement. “Applications to intervene and participate in this case must be filed no later than September 13, 2017, with the Secretary of the Missouri Public Service Commission.”

14) New Jersey: The Turnpike Authority has announced agreement with two companies on a ‘public private partnership’ to make capital improvements on NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway rest stops. The agreement “involves HMSHost and Sunoco paying for rest stop infrastructure enhancements in exchange for new contracts to continue operating food and fuel concessions along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway for the next 25 years.” The agreement is subject to approval from the NJTA board of commissioners. [Sub required]

15) New York: To commemorate the thirty-fifth anniversary of the first women being hired as New York City firefighters, NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives (home of the collections of Brenda Berkman and the United Women Firefighters), in cooperation with the New York Labor History Association and LaborArts, will be hold a roundtable discussion on programs that have helped women enter the historically male-dominated skilled trades and uniformed forces. On September 22 at NYU’s Bobst Library.

16) North Carolina: The question of whether the I-77 ‘public private partnership’ road project should be cancelled is a hot potato for the state department of transportation, which is to receive a final report from Mercator Advisors this month on the feasibility of changing or ending a contract signed three years ago. “The report stated public opposition to the toll lane project is so great it would be a ‘potential justification’ for canceling the project entirely.” Widen I-77 founder Kurt Naas “said if this toll lane project is continued as it is now, the indirect economic cost to the region over 50 years will total $33 billion while the cost of canceling the project totals only $204 million. ‘In conclusion, it’s expensive but the cost of continuing is enormous.’”

17) Ohio: Innovation Ohio is calling on the education department to block the controversial online charter company Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow from changing its status. “The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow wants to change from a typical charter school to a dropout recovery school. Because of the looser standards for the latter, ECOT could go from a failing grade to an ‘A’ on its state report card.” ECOT is mired in a scandal over alleged overspending and questionable attendance.

The Columbus Dispatch reported on Sunday that “rather than tighten its belt since January 2016, when the state began requiring e-schools to document student participation to receive state funding, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow has spent tens of millions of dollars on attorneys, TV ads, a lobbyist and payments to founder William Lager’s companies at the previously agreed-to rate. And as its legal battle continued to fail, ECOT announced this summer that it would lay off 250 teachers and other employees.”

18) Ohio: Moves are afoot to get the Cincinnati Pension Board  to divest private prison industry holdings worth $2.5 million. “Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld’s office uncovered pension fund holdings that include indirect exposure to private prison companies CoreCivic and GEO Group, and direct exposure to G4S, to the tune of 598,137 shares worth $2,535,964.99. (…) Sittenfeld’s policy directive, supported by a majority of council and the mayor, calls for the City Pension Board, which council helps to appoint and oversee, to report back with a divestment plan in 45 days.”

19) Oklahoma: A proposal for an Ardmore charter school is shot down by school officials. “In his recommendation statement, [Superintendent Kim Holland] noted that the Academy did not provide proof that the academic plan meets Oklahoma state standards and that the academy did not provide sufficient plans for transportation or food services.” The charter operator has 30 days to rework its proposal.

20) Pennsylvania: Charter schools have siphoned off about 9.5% of property tax revenues from traditional public schools, a University of Kansas researcher estimates. “The Great Recession led to reductions in virtually all districts’ overall revenue post-2008, Shannon said, but a key finding in his analysis was that in districts with a charter school revenue decreased even further. This likely required school boards to raise property taxes in response to the shortfall. ‘A common perception about school performance at charter schools is if we give them money, they’ll perform better. But no one has any examples to support those results,’ Shannon said. ‘Charter schools might be siphoning money away from public schools.’”

21) Tennessee: Shelby County school officials continue to resist efforts by charter school companies to gain access to the private information of public school students. “The SCS board voted last week to continue to stand up to the state, and to support Metro Nashville Public Schools in its fight over the same issue. That vote came just after Education Commissioner Candice McQueen sent the district a letter insisting they comply with a new state law that says new charter schools should be given contact information for students within the district.”

22) Texas/National: Hurricane Harvey’s impact on Texas infrastructure will be “massive,” says anti-toll, anti-privatization Texas activist Terri Hall. “Every single P3 in Texas involved public funds and put the taxpayers on the hook for the private entity’s losses,” she reminds us. “Fast forward to a post-Harvey world and lawmakers face a tremendous struggle of how to keep those projects on track and still mount the massive resources necessary, even with federal aid, to rebuild the critical infrastructure lost due to Harvey. As Texans continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to help their fellow man recover and rebuild from Harvey’s devastating losses, elected officials have the unenviable task of figuring out how to balance needs in other parts of the state with getting that critical infrastructure in Harvey’s wake back online without jeopardizing the state’s overall economic growth.”

23) Texas: Houston’s Harris County has the loosest, least-regulated drainage policy and system in the entire country, says Rice University environmental engineering professor Phil Bedient. “No one is even a close second—not even New Orleans, because at least they have pumps there.” Why? “Local politicians are simply unwilling to insist in the local code that developers, who are among their biggest campaign donors, create no adverse effects, said Ed Browne, chairman of the nonprofit Residents Against Flooding. ‘In general, developers run this city and whatever developers want they get,’ Browne said.”

24) Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker’s $3 billion incentive plan to lure Foxconn to the state has become an issue in the gubernatorial campaign. “Sounds good for Foxconn, but what’s in it for the rest of us? Just think if we invested that money in our schools instead,” state schools superintendent Tony Evers says. The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is set to vote on the incentives package tomorrow. There is a nearly $1 billion shortfall in the state’s transportation fund.

25) International: There is “a growing revolt against tolls in Australia.” Writing in The Australian, Graham Richardson reports that “right around the country people are beginning to realize just how crippling toll roads really are. The major route heading west out of Sydney is called the M4. It has been toll-free for years but motorists are now being asked to pay huge tolls to fund a widening of the motorway. As a friend of mine told me a few days ago, you could fire a shotgun on the M4 and fail to hit anyone. So many people now strive for much slower but much cheaper alternatives. In NSW, and in most states, it is the government that sets the toll and not the owner-operator of the road. This seems to be the preferred model for most state toll roads. In one case, the tolls will remain in place for at least 50 years. The road will be paid off several times over but the punters just keep paying. Personally, I worry about excessive motorway construction. All these roads to get you to the traffic jam faster.” [Sub required]. Key questions Australians are asking: Who benefits? How do we define benefits? How do we protect the public from political influence and dodgy deal making?

26) International: Footage reportedly shows a detainee being choked at a G4S immigration removal center near Gatwick Airport in England. Video shown by BBC’s Panorama “allegedly shows staff mocking detainees who were receiving medical treatment after self-harming or taking drugs. In one incident a detainee was self-harming by trying to self-strangulate and putting a mobile phone battery in his mouth. A custody manager allegedly remarked: ‘Plug him in and he’ll be a Duracell bunny.’ It is claimed that later during the same incident, when the detainee was being physically restrained, another member of staff was filmed choking the detainee. Panorama’s undercover reporter said the staff member ‘basically stuck both of his fingers into his neck, and he was pushing so, so hard I could hear the detainee trying to gasp for breath.’ The footage is said to reveal that drugs, particularly the psychoactive substance ‘spice,’ are rife inside the center.” Inmates were also moved from a G4S-operated Birmingham jail on Sunday after a disturbance.

27) Revolving Door News: The Trump administration has appointed a former DeVry University official, Julian Schmoke, to police for-profit colleges.

28) Think Tanks: Documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy and first published by the Guardian outline a right wing plan to kill off public sector unions and defund progressive political infrastructure. “In a 10-page fundraising letter,” the Guardian reports, the State Policy Network (SPN) “sets out its mission in frank language that does not disguise its partisan ambitions. (…) The long-term objective is to ‘deal a major blow to the left’s ability to control government at the state and national levels. I’m talking about permanently depriving the left from access to millions of dollars in dues extracted from unwilling union members every election cycle’ (emphasis in original),” writes SPN president and CEO Tracie Sharp.

29) Think Tanks: University of Minnesota historian Jason Stahl discusses the impact right-wing think tanks have had on public policy—and how they have helped shape liberalism. From Against the Grain with Sasha Lilley: “Conservative think tanks, like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute, have had enormous success in shaping political ideas and policy over the last forty years.  But historian Jason Stahl argues that some of their greatest achievements have been in remaking the terrain on which historically liberal think tanks have operated. He reflects on the ways that the Democratic Party moved to the right in the 1990s, influenced by the Democratic Leadership Council’s think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.  Stahl also discusses the power of ideas amongst white supremacists, as illustrated by the appeal of Richard Spencer, of the far right National Policy Institute think tank.”

Legislative Issues

1) National: As Congress returns from its break to take up tax “reform” legislation, the Institute for Policy Studies issues a report showing that corporate tax cuts boost CEO pay, not jobs. They also boost the pay of the executives driving the privatization of public services—who are actually “America’s Highest Paid Government Workers.” [See IPS’ new Executive Excess report.]

2) National/Florida: As Trump, congressional Republicans, and energy companies try to slice chunks off national monuments, legislation to privatize public land in Florida is advancing in Congress. “This is a public vs. private, citizen vs. developer, greed vs. public good issue,” says Indivisible Northwest Florida. “If this passes,” they say, “Santa Rosa Island homes that are currently sitting on LEASED land owned by the citizens of Escambia County will be able to own that land and dispose of it at will, in whatever manner that individual sees fit. Once that happens, developers will be able to move in, offering owners huge sums of money to buy up that land in large blocks, commercializing and privatizing what is currently natural and enjoyed by the public with very few access restrictions.” [S 1073]

3) California: Shares of the for-profit water company Cadiz soar 32% after a state Senate committee fails to advance a bill aimed at stopping the company from pumping water from the Mojave Desert. “I’m deeply disappointed that the state legislature is actively blocking a bill to prevent Cadiz—one of the Trump administration’s pet projects—from destroying the Mojave Desert,” said U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D). In a statement,David Lamfrom, California Desert Director for National Parks Conservation Association, said that the “National Parks Conservation Association has spent more than a decade fighting to protect fragile water resources in the California desert that our parks and wildlife rely on. We support Mojave Trails National Monument and understand that Cadiz, through support from the [Trump] Administration, has placed a bulls-eye on it. Our partners, our community, and our champions understand that this effort does not end with today’s disappointment, and it does not end with Cadiz draining our precious desert. We will fight for what is sacred in the Mojave.”

4) Florida: Senate Democrats are moving to rein in a controversial charter school law by tightening up regulations on operators. “Even Senate Republicans have indicated a willingness to make significant changes to Schools of Hope, which passed the upper chamber by a single vote. For that reason, unlike most Democratic education bills, the new legislation could be met by a receptive bipartisan audience. Convincing House Republicans to back the measure, though, might be markedly more difficult.” Under the legislation, SB 216, 75 percent of the students attending charters built with the new funding “would have to have matriculated from nearby traditional public schools deemed to be chronically failing.”

5) Pennsylvania: In the midst of a budget deal-making crunch, state lawmakers appear to be trading the privatization of environmental regulation for a tax on frackers. The deal “requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to review its permit backlog and create a system where third parties could take over responsibility for reviewing various kinds of permits designed to curb pollution. A third provision would set up a committee, comprised mostly of legislative appointees, with the power to reject new permits and revisions proffered by the DEP.”

 

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