Weekly privatization report: Pelosi and Trump talk infrastructure | GEO Group up close | and more

Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and in communities nationwide, in order by sector. Not a subscriber? Sign up here.

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS

EDUCATION

1) National: Jeff Bryant of the Independent Media Institute is shining a light on “how progressives are fighting the plot to gut public education.” Writing in Alternet, he says “Despite the decades-long effort to privatize Milwaukee’s local school, recent events in that community have revealed how public school advocates can successfully fight back against the forces of privatization. In Milwaukee’s recent school board election, a slate of five candidates swept into office under a banner of turning back years of efforts to privatize the district’s schools. The win for public schools was noteworthy not only because it took place in a long-standing bastion of school choice, but also because the winning candidates were backed by an emerging coalition that adopted a bold, new politics that demands candidates take up a full-throated opposition to school privatization rather than cater to the middle.”

2) Indiana: State lawmakers approve a budget with increased funding for education. “Along with the $150 million cash infusion in the pension system, the budget adds $539 million to tuition support over the two years and additional spending on Teacher Appreciation Grants, charters, vouchers and school safety.” $1 billion of proceeds from the Indiana Toll Road privatization will also be spent. “For now, the Senate proposes to put that cash into the state’s general fund and to use $239 million this year, $218 million in 2020 and $221 million in 2021. The concession company has 63 years remaining on its 75-year lease of the tollway. Australian fund manager fund IFM Investors bought the rights to the Indiana Toll Road lease in May 2015 for $5.7 billion.” [Sub required]

3) Maryland: Robert A. Chrencik resigned on Friday as president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System.  “His long tenure at the hospital network ended “amid the controversy surrounding accusations of self-dealing and no-bid contracting. (…) Chrencik praised the 1984 privatization of the hospital system in recent testimony in Annapolis.”

4) MichiganThe Marion Public Schools have decided to privatize their transport system. “‘There has to be a ton of transition planning but what that will look like, I don’t know yet,‘ [Superintendent Chris Arrington] said. ‘Dean (Transportation) is looking at drafting a contract and as soon as we get it the board will vet it and we will get it in front of our attorneys.’”

5) Missouri: Jean Klaus of Maryland Heights, a St. Louis suburb, asks a pointed question about right wing think tanks, lawmakers, and the role of Rex Sinquefield. “Legislation presented by state Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, would effectively reduce, and most likely destroy, the Missouri’s teachers’ pension plan. He states that the Show-Me Institute, with the financial backing of Rex Sinquefield, is behind this effort. I would like an answer as to why Sinquefield, one of the Missouri’s richest residents, continually strives to wreak havoc and destroy the state. For years he has attempted to get rid of the city earnings taxes that support our major cities. Reportedly, he is also behind the attempted privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Additionally, he is the driving force behind Better Together. And now he thinks teachers pensions should be lowered or gotten rid of. There is a definite pattern here. The rich will get richer and the middle class will shrink into oblivion. It’s time we all stopped listening to anything Sinquefield has to say. This entails politicians not being bought by him to do his dirty work. It will also entail putting the people of Missouri first. So who will stand up and refuse to do his bidding for the highest dollar? We will all be watching to see.”

6) TennesseeA voucher bill giving parents public money for private schools narrowly passed the House. “As House members filed into the chamber Tuesday, they were met by roughly two dozen protesters, who later held signs from inside the chamber debated the legislation. (…) Critics, including many Democrats who voted against the legislation, say it could lead to fraud and gut the state’s public school system, all at the cost to taxpayers. The vote was opposed by numerous Republican lawmakers as well.” 

7) Texas: The Fort Worth school board has voted to outsource the jobs of cafeteria workers to SodexoMAGIC. ““Outsourcing these jobs not only does a disservice to them, but to our kids,” said Jason Smith, a parent and supporter of cafeteria workers. After about a dozen people spoke against the effort Tuesday, Superintendent Kent Scribner said in English and Spanish that every cafeteria worker who is employed with the district will continue to be district employees next school year.”

INFRASTRUCTURE

8) National: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) are to meet with President Trump this week to discuss infrastructure. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing for an increase in the gas tax to help fund an initiative. “Pelosi told reporters earlier this month she would like an infrastructure package of at least $1 trillion although she would prefer it to be closer to $2 trillion. How to fund such a plan is “to be determined,” she said. Trump has proposed spending $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years to leverage $800 billion in private funding. The federal funding would be paid for by unspecified spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.”

9) National/Think tanks: The Center for American Progress is proposing “equity-oriented workforce strategies for a progressive infrastructure plan.” They say that “encouraging eligible entities to create new or bolster existing collaboration with local or regional workforce intermediaries would support alignment between the private sector’s business stake in a federally funded infrastructure project and the government’s goal of acting in the public interest. By institutionalizing collaboration in the form of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with the local or regional workforce agency, federally funded contracting entities would increase their capacity to assess current workforce composition; enhance support of complex development projects such as ports and intermodal hubs; and project future workforce needs throughout the process of a given project.” 

10) National: Governing magazine is pushing the idea of extending so-called public-private partnerships beyond toll roads. “The biggest news in the world of public-private partnerships (P3s) last year had nothing to do with toll roads—the most visible way governments team up companies. Instead, the most expensive infrastructure deals were projects to build a car-rental facility and a small tram at Los Angeles International Airport. Other significant P3s struck last year centered around student housing at Purdue University, a courthouse in Maryland and a replacement for a 155-year-old prison in Kansas, according to Inframation, a news and analysis service.” 

11) Massachusetts: Higham’s town meeting has voted “to buy the private water company that serves Hingham, Hull, and a portion of Cohasset for $108 million. Aquarion Water Co. had fought what it described as a hostile takeover, but an 1879 state law allowed the town to buy the water system if two-thirds of Town Meeting approved.” Water remunicipalization is a global trend

12) Missouri: St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger says “city leaders used to back airport debt reduction. Then Rex Sinquefield came calling.” He writes, “So what happened in the past two years? Rex Sinquefield happened. By January 2018, Krewson had sold the city’s soul to Sinquefield, the retired billionaire investor and political meddler who is single-handedly financing the effort to try to privatize the city’s airport operations. For the airport profiteers to get their way, it helps their narrative to be able to tell tales of woe about the conditions of Lambert. Never mind the consistently increasing passenger traffic, decreasing costs, debt reduction and credit rating hikes.”

13) Puerto Rico: Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) experts Cathy Kunkel and Tom Sanzillo challenge the logic of arguments for the privatization of Puerto Rico’s electrical utility. “To position the privatization process underway as establishing a competitive market, as some have alleged, is completely misleading. The privatization contemplated by Puerto Rico’s Act 120-2018 will establish a set of long-term contracts for power generation and a single concession for the operation of PREPA’s transmission and distribution assets. Prices for power will be established by contract, not by a market. In such a situation, if PREPA were to remain an owner of generation (which is not contemplated by Act 120), oversight would be needed to ensure that the utility was not preferentially utilizing its own units at the expense of independent generators, but this kind of oversight would not require a market.”

14) Tennessee: Nashville Mayor David Briley’s office announces he wants to privatize the city’s parking spaces in a 30-year deal with LAZ Parking. “The contract must still be approved by the Traffic and Parking Commission and the Metro Council. The Mayor wants the contract approved by the end of June so that up front payments from LAZ Parking of $17 million, in each of the first two years of the contract, can be applied to the city’s budget. If approved by the council, LAZ Parking hopes to have new meters in place as early as September. (…) One member of the Traffic and Parking Commission , Betsy Williams, said the decision weighs heavily on her, and she felt rushed to approve the rate increases that consultants presented to them at the March meeting. ‘I was not personally prepared, knowledge-wise, to really offer the vote that I did offer,’ Williams said at the April meeting.”

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND IMMIGRATION

15) National: Katherine Weathers and Hy Thurman discuss the support work for ICE detainees of the Etowah Visitation Project. “The Etowah Visitation Project is a member group of Freedom for Immigrants formerly known as CIVIC (Community Initiatives for visiting Immigrants in Confinement), a national network which visits and monitors approximately 55 immigrant prisons in 23 states. Through visits and/or letters, we connect with immigrants who are being detained in the Etowah County Detention Center while they await immigration hearings or deportations. Our objective is to be there as friends and listeners open to people of all religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We bear witness to the suffering and to the enormous strength and resilience of character that many of the men possess.”

16) National: As lawmakers consider banning the renewal of state contracts with private, for-profit prison corporations, longtime San Francisco Chronicle journalist John Diaz is criticizing “the outrage of private prisons in America.” He writes, “for many inmates, one of the keys to their transition back to the outside world is to allow them to maintain relationships with their families while incarcerated. Yet during the depths of the state prison overcrowding crisis a decade ago, California inmates were being shipped to private prisons as far away as Oklahoma and Mississippi. California continues to have 1,400 inmates at a CoreCivic prison in Eloy, Ariz. Oddly enough, Bonta has not detected of any lobbying against AB32 by the for-profit prisons. Perhaps they see the inevitability of their demise in this state with a governor who can decline renewal of their contracts even if Bonta’s measure doesn’t become law.”

17) National/California: ICE has turned down the City of Adelanto’s request to rescind its decision to back out of its contract. “Lizbeth Abeln, immigrant detention coordinator with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, also said in order for GEO Group to house more detainees, they would have to skirt state law and work directly with ICE. The Dignity Not Detention Act, which became law in January 2018, bars local municipalities from modifying or entering into new contracts to expand immigration detention with private prison companies. Evans said previously that she walked in on a meeting between Flores and Geo Group officials at City Hall, at least a month before the termination notices were sent to ICE and GEO Group. She said George Zoley, the founder and CEO of Geo Group, told her the company wanted to expand the prison, and that the city would need to back out of the agreement for them to do so.”

18) National/Florida: Writing in The Miami Herald, Adam Snitzer (the publisher of MiamiActivists.org ) takes a close-up view of GEO Group, the private, for-profit prison corporation. “According to the company’s 2018 SEC 10K filing, such lawsuits are par for the course in the private prison industry and are not likely ‘to have a material adverse effect on its financial condition.’ But there’s also the court of public opinion and other opponents believe that private prison themselves are immoral. ‘A business model rooted in the oppression and anguish of people is always going to be a problem,’ said Dwight Bullard, political director of the New Florida Majority, who represented Miami-Dade County in the Florida legislature from 2008 through 2016. Bullard’s views were echoed by Miami-based staff at the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the Community Justice Project.”

19) GeorgiaA large altercation has been reported at the GEO Group-run D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston (BOP/USMS). Minor injuries to staff were reported.

20) Minnesota: Immigrant detainees to Appleton? Nine years after it last held prisoners, the vacant CoreCivic-owned Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton continues to look for inmates. “Efforts to reopen the Prairie Correctional Facility continue to face major challenges in the state Legislature, but support from local elected officials remains strong. More than 40 people, many of them county commissioners from Lyon County to Stevens County, toured the vacant Prairie Correctional Facility on Wednesday, April 24, in Appleton. They left asking their hosts how they can support its reopening.” CoreCivic “is pursuing all opportunities to reopen the facility. It is submitting a bid to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which recently put out a request for proposals to house up to 500 detainees in the St. Paul region, according to Kelly Durham, state partnership relations with CoreCivic.”

21) Vermont/Maine/National: The Burlington Free Press reports on how inmates from Vermont and Maine are allowed to vote from prison. “Vermont and Maine are the only states where people convicted of felonies never lose their right to vote—even while living behind bars—according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The rarity of Vermont’s law was on display at a CNN Democratic presidential candidate town hall on Monday evening, when a Harvard University student asked Sanders whether he believed the Boston marathon bomber or people convicted of sexual assault should have voting rights in prison. ‘I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people,’ [Bernie] Sanders replied. (…) According to a Department of Corrections internal guidance document, the right to vote also extends to the approximately 200 Vermont inmates incarcerated in Mississippi at a prison run by the private company CoreCivic.”

PUBLIC SERVICES

22) NationalPresident Trump agrees with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that the VA isn’t broken. “Trump supported the MISSION Act last year, which expanded private health care options within the VA system — something that Ocasio-Cortez has taken issue with. The New York Democrat argued at a town hall last week that Americans should resist efforts to privatize the VA’s services.” Ocasio-Cortez argued at a town hall last week that Americans should resist efforts to privatize the VA’s services.

23) AlaskaUnder intense pressure by citizen and labor activists, the state “has changed its plans for the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Wellpath will not operate API under a controversial no-bid contract for the next five years. Instead, the company will continue to work at the facility through December. The state also has hired a contractor to study whether it makes sense to privatize API. If the state then moves forward with privatization, it will seek bids. (…) Bethel Democratic Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky said she’s glad the state made the change. ‘Process is important,’ she said. ‘I think that’s come out in several hearings that we’ve had, both in making sure that we protect state employees, but (also) caring for some of the most vulnerable Alaskans at a very critical institution.’”

24) MinnesotaConcern over the future of public housing persists even after the Minneapolis City Council approves a measure to protect security of tenant occupancy rights. “‘We’re trying to just reaffirm to the residents, especially the Somali community, that they’re not going to lose their housing. They never will lose their housing and that’s their biggest fear,’ [Elliott Twins Apartments resident and Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council President Mary McGovern] said. In addition to the memorandum, the City should use other methods to help tenants, said Russ Adams, executive director of The Alliance for Metropolitan Stability.” The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority “has come under fire by public housing advocates after the Elliot Twins Apartments in the Elliot Park neighborhood became the city’s first public housing renovation approved to use RAD. Opponents say the program threatens to privatize the buildings.”

25) Pennsylvania: State lawmakers from rural Pennsylvania “are pushing back on a privatization measure slipped into last year’s state budget that would affect transportation for at least 150,000 Medicaid recipients. Under Medicaid, or Medical Assistance as the program is known in Pennsylvania, qualified recipients can get free rides to non-emergency medical appointments, such as a regular doctor’s visit or cancer treatment. (…) But last year’s Human Services code — a large piece of enabling legislation passed with every state budget—instead ordered the commonwealth to contract the whole program out, region by region, to private companies with no input from local governments.”

OTHER

26) National: AFSCME, the national public sector union, is welcoming the victory of the 31,000 workers of the Stop & Shop grocery chain after their strike. “AFSCME members from Council 4 in Connecticut, Council 93 in Northern New England and Council 94 in Rhode Island all rallied to voice their solidarity with their New England union sisters and brothers. The strike also garnered a tremendous outpouring of support from fellow workers and nonworkers alike. AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) together contributed $5,000 to a fund to help Stop & Shop workers. The unions also pledged an additional $500 each week for the duration of the strike.” 

27) National: The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is facing charges of corruption and mismanagement.  “Moreover, large meat producers like Cargill, Tyson, Smithfield, Swift (JBS), and Sanderson Farms are often given a “pass” thanks to their high-paid lobbyists: ‘The same misbranding or adulteration of product that would force an immediate recall from a small, “Ma and Pa” company is overlooked with big meat companies,’ says the official.”

28) National: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) have unveiled comprehensive legislation to address extensive problems with privatized military housing. “This bill will eliminate the kind of corner-cutting and neglect the Defense Department should never have let these private housing providers get away with in the first place,” said Warren. “Military families should never have to worry if their housing is safe and up to code, but I’ve heard reports from my district and across the country about families dealing with mold, infestation, and structural problems while private housing companies make a quick buck off taxpayer dollars.”

29) Connecticut: Department of Labor employees have petitioned Gov. Lamont “asking him not to privatize any part of any Paid Family and Medical Leave program that’s approved by the General Assembly. The petition was signed by about 300 of their colleagues. “We as an agency believe we could do a better job administering the program,” AFSCME Local 269 President Xavier Gordon said. He said privatization, one of the options being discussed in negotiations over three different versions of the legislation before the General Assembly, could also compromise the integrity of the program.”