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- In the Public Interest’s executive director, Donald Cohen, joined The Jacobin Show to discuss public goods and privatization
- A Virginia privatized toll road may eat up one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic.
- Government is actually doing a good job, writes In the Public Interest’s Research and Policy Director Shar Habibi.
First, the good news…
1) National: In the Public Interest’s executive director, Donald Cohen, joined The Jacobin Show to discuss public goods and privatization. “We need a street level critique of neoliberalism, privatization and deregulation,” Cohen says. “We have to rebuild commitment to the idea of public,” and we shouldn’t play into the hands of the right wing by denigrating the very idea of government—as they continually do—instead of trying to improve its institutions. “We need a governing reform agenda” and “we need to attack the idea frame as well.” [Video, about 30 minutes]. For more see How Locals Used Federal Pandemic Aid to Boost Employment and Labor.
2) National: Government is actually doing a good job, writes In the Public Interest’s Research and Policy Director Shar Habibi. “When it comes to infrastructure, over 5,000 projects backed with new federal money are already underway. Residents in states including California and Texas are accessing high-speed broadband internet access for the first time. State transportation officials are improving and expanding roadways, such as Pennsylvania’s project to connect an unfinished rural highway with Maryland. The U.S. Forest Service is planting trees in areas burned by forest fires in the largest reforestation drive in the U.S. since the 1930s. All of this counters a common attitude that the government is incompetent and that government programs make us less free. Certainly, things like corruption and over-policing can happen when public institutions are captured by the powerful few. But the last few years have shown what is possible when we make government work for us.”
3) National: A rule proposed by the Biden Department of Labor “would make it more difficult for companies to treat workers as independent contractors, a change that is expected to shake up ride-hailing, delivery and other industries that rely on gig workers.” The final rule is expected next year, after a 45-day public comment period that began last Thursday. “Liz Shuler, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), said the proposal gives the government the tools to protect workers from the ‘escalating problem of misclassification.’ The proposed rule is the latest move in a politically charged battle that has pitched Republicans and companies against Democrats and worker groups over the past decade. It would replace a Trump administration regulation that says workers who own their own businesses or have the ability to work for competing companies, such as a driver who works for Uber and Lyft, can be treated as contractors.”
The New York Times reports that “the proposal would apply only to laws that the department enforced, such as the federal minimum wage. States and other federal agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service, set their own criteria for employment status. But many employers and regulators in other jurisdictions are likely to consider the department’s interpretation when making decisions about worker classification, and many judges are likely to use it as a guide.”
There’s still time to comment. The National Labor Relations Board has extended the time for submitting comments on the proposed rule concerning the Joint-Employer Standard. “Interested parties may now file comments on or before Wednesday, December 7, 2022. Comments replying to the comments submitted during the initial comment period must be received by the Board on or before Wednesday, December 21, 2022. Absent extraordinary circumstances, no further extensions of the comment deadline will be granted. The Federal Register is expected to announce and publish this extension of time later this week. Under the proposed rule announced September 6, 2022, two or more employers would be considered joint employers if they “share or codetermine those matters governing employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment,” such as wages, benefits and other compensation, work and scheduling, hiring and discharge, discipline, workplace health and safety, supervision, assignment, and work rules. The Board proposes to consider both direct evidence of control and evidence of reserved and indirect control over these essential terms and conditions of employment.”
4) National: A lawsuit by the Kaiser Health Network has prompted federal officials to make public 90 audits of private Medicare Advantage health plans for seniors that are expected to reveal hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges to the government. “ ‘It’s incredibly frustrating that it took a lawsuit and years of pushing to make this vital information public,’ said Thomas Burke, a San Francisco attorney who represented KHN pro bono.
‘Transparency—on a real-time basis—should be the norm for the public to have oversight of this multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-paid program,’ said Burke, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine. Under the settlement, CMS agreed to pay $63,000 in legal fees to the law firm and to “make its best efforts” to provide the documents over six weeks. In making the payment, the agency did not admit to wrongfully withholding the records.”
Medicare Advantage programs are being used to privatize basic Medicare services, as this excellent briefing by Dr. Corinne Frugoni, a family medicine doctor in Eureka, California, explains. “Medicare Advantage and ACO REACH programs are being aggressively promoted to seniors in Humboldt by insurance companies and financial investors.” [Video, about a half hour].
5) California: The good news is that the new K-Line train has opened, but concerns remain that while it promises to make long-neglected parts of South Los Angeles and Inglewood more accessible than ever, it could be “an engine of gentrification and displacement.” Seven of nine total stops are open but the final and potentially most crucial destination for the train is LAX International Airport, a stop Metro officials say they hope will open late in 2024. “Looking ahead, Metro’s ambitions call for the K-Line to extend north of Exposition Boulevard, cross the 10 freeway, and service stations in in West Hollywood and Hollywood. But don’t expect to ride that anytime soon. Metro projects that project wouldn’t be completed until 2047.”
6) Connecticut: The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission has ordered the staff of Gov. Ned Lamont’s office to attend mandatory training sessions on the state’s Freedom of Information Act, “after they failed to release emails, text messages and other records related to the coronavirus pandemic for more than two years. It’s unclear if any other governor in Connecticut history has had their executive staff lectured about their duties under the state’s open records law, which was enacted in 1975 to increase transparency in state and local government.”
7) Delaware: Governor John Carney (D) has signed a bill into law defining wage theft as a crime and setting financial penalties for violators. “The new wage theft law is one of the most detailed in the country, targeting an array of strategies used by employers to avoid paying taxes or underpay workers. Its sponsor, State Sen. Jack Walsh (D-Christiana/Newark), says wage theft, including misclassifying workers as part-time or contractors, is widespread and often leaves workers without access to key benefits. ‘Having them work off-the-clock, paying them under the table – which presents problems down the road because they can’t access worker’s compensation or unemployment,’ he said.”
8) Maryland: The Gov. Hogan (R) administration has pulled the privatization of the Western Maryland Hospital Center in Washington County off the Board of Public Works agenda—a victory (at least temporary) for the unions who have been fighting against the idea. The BPW is chaired by Hogan. “Leaders of the state’s largest employees union are hoping to derail two contracts that will move a state hospital in Hagerstown closer to closing. The opposition to two proposals from yet-to-be named bidders is the latest scrum in a battle over the fate of the Western Maryland Hospital Center. ‘We’re asking the Board of Public works to stand with the Hagerstown community and vote to disapprove these expedited procurement requests for private skilled nursing and brain injuries,’ said Pat Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3.”
Brian Miller, a social worker at the hospital in Hagerstown for 31 years, says “losing Western Maryland Center would be very devastating to the patients who have built strong [connections] here at the facility with fellow patients, staff members and with members of the local community who come and participate and volunteer at the facility. For the patients’ families, it would be a devastating loss for them. They would have to face sending loved ones more often far away and have the difficulty in keeping contact with them.”
9) Maryland: The Our Baltimore Fall Workshop is tomorrow. “‘Shape Your City’: Generate ideas for the Department of Planning’s Our Baltimore draft planning document. 5:30 p.m. at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, South East Anchor Branch, 3601 Eastern Avenue.”
For more information, go to planning.baltimorecity.gov/welcome-planning-department or call: 410-396-3100.
10) New York: “Some of the lowest-paid health care employees in the state are getting a raise,” The Buffalo News reports, “courtesy of New York’s budget agreement this year that included a multiyear, $7.7 billion investment to boost the minimum wage for home care workers. (…) The minimum wage for home care aides in upstate New York will jump to $16.20 an hour at the end of this year, in conjunction with the $1-an-hour minimum wage increase for all of upstate. Then, on Oct. 1, 2023, the minimum wage for home care aides are scheduled to hit $17.20 an hour upstate and $18 an hour in New York City, Long Island and Westchester, though that increase is pending fiscal review and approval by the state Budget Department.”
11) International: The Bond Buyer reports that the Washington and Oregon governors and the premier of Canada’s British Columbia province “have signed a pact joining with California Gov. Gavin Newsom in setting environmental mandates that encourage electric vehicle use, and pledging dollars to investing in EV infrastructure.” [Sub required]
12) National: Charter schools that received federal funding to open or expand were generally less likely to close than other similar charter schools, GAO reports. “From FYs 2006-2020, the Department of Education awarded over 6,000 Charter Schools Program grants ($2.5 billion in funds) to help open or expand charter schools across the nation. (…) We also found that states awarded about $152 million of these grants to charter schools that closed or never opened.”
13) Idaho: Native American leaders are calling for more indigenous voices in schools. The Idaho Statesman Reports. Johanna Jones, the coordinator of Indian Education at the State Department of Education, “said Idaho school curriculum are mostly locally controlled, though, and there is little to no reform effort at the state level to require schools to incorporate more Native American culture into lessons. She said three schools outside of Idaho’s traditional districts teach indigenous culture throughout the year. The Coeur d’ Alene Tribal School and the Shoshone-Bannock Jr./Sr. High School are the only two tribal schools in Idaho. Both are funded by the Bureau of Indian Education and receive no public funds from the state. Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy is a public charter school in Fort Hall whose mission is to incorporate academics, bilingualism and cultural enrichment into its curriculum.”
14) Kansas: Due to job dissatisfaction, Kansas is losing teachers fast. “New teacher retention—a crucial figure measuring the number of newly graduated teachers who remain through their third year of teaching—plummeted to 86.3% after hovering in the low 90s for much of the past decade. Meanwhile, the average teacher salary increased to $61,070, a rate of about 1.6%, or well below the inflation rate. (…) Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City, said teachers are feeling burned out, especially when families don’t meet their efforts to engage parents in their students’ learning. ‘And to top it all off, the politicians are calling them ugly things,’ Waugh said. ‘There was a time when teachers were among the most respected professions we have.’”
15) Michigan: A school voucher-like tuition tax credit plan is threatening public education in the state. “The Betsy DeVos-backed Let MI Kids Learn proposal, which due to a quirk in Michigan lawmaking could be passed by a Republican legislature—the current one or the next if the GOP retains control—without the governor’s signature, would provide scholarships for educational expenses paid for by donations from individual or corporate state tax paying entities. (…) It’s a dangerous plan and would directly threaten Michigan fiscal and economic health. For one thing, where it’s been tried in other states—including next door in Indiana and Ohio—it’s had disastrous effects on student learning, as large and up to twice the size of pandemic learning loss itself. For a state in which business leaders have stressed education success as critical to economic growth, that alone would be a huge setback.”
16) Missouri: Is this a real estate play or are private interests being subsidized by federal public money? “Charter schools in Missouri could someday tap into a new taxpayer-backed fund to repair buildings and renovate classroom space under a proposal pending in the state treasurer’s office. Budget documents filed earlier this month show Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick wants to create a revolving loan fund worth $10 million, giving schools a source of revenue for maintenance costs after previous plans were torpedoed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson. In June, Parson vetoed $10 million for charter schools in a bill that was funded by federal pandemic aid money.”
17) Pennsylvania: Is the state legislature too “broken” to fix the state’s ruinous charter school funding model? Carol Kuniholm thinks so. She chairs Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan, citizen-led coalition working to stop gerrymandering, and FixHarrisburg.com, a joint initiative with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania’s charter school funding formula has been described as one of the worst in the nation. Bills to address that have been introduced in multiple sessions without any action. In this legislative session, 87% of Pennsylvania school boards, including most school boards in Lancaster County, have passed resolutions asking the Legislature to reform the existing charter school funding system. Bills aimed at such reform have been ignored.”
18) Tennessee: “American Classical Education’s withdrawal of three appeals shows a calculated retreat for the Hillsdale-affiliated charter organization after months of intense criticism surrounding the school’s curriculum, ideology and the views of the people behind it,” The Tennessean’s Melissa Brown and Adam Friedman report. “But it’s unlikely to be the end of Hillsdale’s attempt to expand into the state, as officials with the school said they’d pursue additional charter schools in the future. (…) The withdrawal also helped the charter commission avoid further scrutiny. American Classical’s appeal put a spotlight on the commission, some of its most intense since its creation in 2019. (…) Charter school applications are due to local school boards early next year, and with the knowledge of past mistakes, the schools can restart the process with a much more sophisticated strategy.” [Sub required]
19) National: How are cities deciding where to put electric vehicle chargers? Route Fifty’s Daniel C. Vock reports. “Cities across the country face similar challenges, as local leaders prepare for a surge in electric vehicles. Their approaches have varied considerably, from installing chargers on city-owned streetlights in Los Angeles to partnering with private charging companies in places like San Antonio and Hoboken. Decisions local governments and industry are making now are likely to affect how the charging landscape looks for years to come.”
20) National: “The healthy parks theory of governance provides a clear agenda for enterprising politicians,” writes John Halpin. “Clean up local parks and trails. Open more green spaces. Fully fund safety and maintenance efforts and stop ‘anti-social’ behavior in public places. Encourage people to take pride in their local environment and help keep parks and other gathering spots tidy, safe, and free from bad actors. Citizens want to be proud of where they live—and this starts with the quality of the public spaces around them.” But this will take public engagement and democratic governance, as the battle over Echo Park demonstrates.
21) National: The annual Department of Defense Tenant Satisfaction Survey starts today. “The goal of using a third-party firm is to allow service members and their families to provide their open, truthful and anonymous feedback of living in privatized housing and government-owned family housing. Following survey completion, the survey data will be provided to the DAF [Department of the Air Force—ed.] housing program leaders and privatized housing project owners to continue to improve the housing programs for tenants.”
22) California: Who says desalination plants have to be private, privatized, or P3ed? The California Coastal Commission has approved plans for an all-public project in Orange County that could serve as a model for future projects. “The commission gave unanimous approval—with conditions—to the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project near Pacific Coast Highway and San Juan Creek in Dana Point. The facility, which will convert seawater to drinking water, will be operated by the South Coast Water District. Unlike the Poseidon Water project, which was rejected in May because of dangers it posed to marine life and other issues, the Doheny plant will tie in to an existing municipal system and feature a better environmental design, officials said. But while some championed the project as an example of desalination ‘done right,’ opponents said there are more efficient and economical methods that should be explored first.”
23) Maryland: Maryland and Baltimore environmental officials “have agreed to extend a consent decree that would allow the state to continue overseeing operations at Baltimore’s deeply troubled Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant through the end of the year.” The deal must still be approved by the City Board of Estimates, which is expected to meet this week. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) “is also pursuing a separate agreement with Baltimore city for its other troubled wastewater treatment plant, Patapsco, to ensure that it also has a clear path to achieving compliance with its permit limits, [Jay Apperson, deputy director of communications for MDE] said, adding that the ‘plant’s performance has significantly improved in recent months.’”
24) Montana: The Billings Gazette reports that a Billings attorney believes the process used by Yellowstone County commissioners to explore privatizing management at the MetraPark event facility has been so corrupted that it should be stopped entirely. “‘The process employed by the board (of county commissioners) to do so has been tainted by violations of the Montana Constitution and law, misrepresentations and collusion,’ Jarussi wrote in the request. ‘This faulty and unreliable process should be halted immediately, pending a resolution of Plaintiff’s claims on the merits.’”
25) Virginia: The Transurban-VDOT I-495 Northern Extension ‘public-private partnership’ is gobbling up 1.15 acres of a Fairfax County nature preserve. But don’t worry, in exchange “[the department] has proposed building a new park for the Fairfax County Park Authority on a 1.83-acre site . . . that it currently uses as a maintenance yard.”
26) National: Government Executive reports on how a more diverse pipeline for public service positions can be achieved. “Local governments are rethinking how they go about connecting with job candidates. ‘It’s just not enough to post a position and then say we have no qualified diverse talent,’ says one official.
In an interview, Presidential Innovations Fellow Director Rebeca Lamadrid discussed the “stay flexible” mentality of a program and where it is heading for its next 10 years. “The program has over 200 alumni, and we’ve been inside of more than 50 agencies. We serve inside of a broad range of different agencies, and, throughout the past 10 years, we are proud to say that our cohorts continue to be diverse and representative of the American public. We believe that’s kind of the secret sauce for innovation—the diversity of perspective. I think that throughout the past 10 years, we’ve also learned how to pass the baton; it’s a fellowship, a tour of duty of sorts.”
27) Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department, better known as “the city’s Office of Sales & Demolition,” can redeem itself by doing a good job on the renovation of FDR Park, city residents say. “This year alone, Parks & Rec has outsourced a portion of Cobbs Creek Park to a non-profit golf course operator, which promptly vaporized 88 acres of fragile streambed for a monoculture of fertilized grass links. The city followed up that travesty by handing a banquet company a multiyear contract to use the nationally significant Fairmount Water Works for private parties. During the height of the summer, Eakins Oval and Franklin Square were both allowed to fence off their spaces for nearly two months so they could host pricey, ticketed attractions. It was as if the heart of Center City had been designated a full-time events venue. The department’s increasing emphasis on monetizing its parks helps explain the collective wail that rippled across South Philadelphia last month after bulldozers arrived in FDR Park and began cutting a road through a section affectionately known as the ‘Meadows.’” Not exactly what John Halpin (see above) has in mind.
28) Rhode Island: As overdoses soar, the state is embracing drug consumption sites. “Many public health experts see this strategy as a possible template for transforming how the United States addresses drug use. The concept has drawn considerable interest in recent years: New York City allowed two sites to open last year, and some state legislatures have considered following suit. Rhode Island has authorized a two-year trial that Project Weber and a partner treatment organization anticipate leading. Research has shown that supervised consumption sites in Canada, Australia and some European countries have saved lives and led to people getting treatment. Top Biden administration officials have also signaled openness to the idea.”
29) Tennessee: In a new angle on so-called Right to Work, the state is floating an amendment to the state constitution to ban a company and a union from agreeing contracts that require workers to pay dues to the union representing them. “Tennessee has had such a law on the books since 1947, and the ballot amendment’s outcome wouldn’t change how the existing law works. It would simply become harder to eliminate it going forward. The amendment’s wording won’t be as straightforward as some other ballot initiatives, including an anti-abortion proposal that failed in Kansas earlier this year. That gives proponents and opponents more power over characterizing Tennessee’s proposed change. The long road to insert it into the Tennessee Constitution began in 2020, largely predating the recent national groundswell of interest in unions. Backers of the amendment have cited concerns about attempts by congressional Democrats to pass a labor bill that would bar such laws nationwide. It has passed the House but not the Senate. They also have raised concerns that Democratic-run states could try to unwind so-called right-to-work laws.”
So much for the private right of contracting, which the right wing has been worshipping since Lochner days, and the idea of legislative sovereignty, which is at the heart of current right wing efforts to overturn democratic elections.
30) International: Seniors are fighting to prevent the privatization of their community building, Lions Place, in Winnipeg, Canada. The residents have formed a Seniors Action Committee and are seeking the help of local authorities to prevent the selling off of the nonprofit facility and develop ideas for low and middle income housing. [Video, about two minutes].
31) Think Tanks: Worth Rises has launched a super Prison Industry Corporate Database. “The prison industry is comprised of over 4,000 corporations that profit off of incarceration. These corporations have a vested financial interest in expanding the reach of our carceral system and worsening the incredible harm it causes at the expense of public safety. It’s time we learn their names and get to know them.” Watch the tutorial [Video, about 2 minutes].
32) National: The costs of incarceration are rising with inflation, creating a tight squeeze on families and prisoners. “Across the nation, prison commissaries are raising prices on items that many consider basic necessities—from deodorant to fresh fruit—not provided by the state department of corrections. (…) It’s a burden that families shouldn’t have to shoulder, advocates say, and a situation that some worry will lead to unrest or violence. Wanda Bertram, communications strategist for the Prison Policy Initiative, a think tank focused on policies in the criminal justice and legal system, said that by forcing prisoners and their families to buy many essential items in the prison commissary instead of providing them for free, prisons are shifting the costs of incarceration onto them and their loved ones. ‘The prison and jail system always has the power to play hardball with the provider to get prices down in order to make items more affordable for the consumers but a prison system that’s already content with foisting the costs of things like over-the-counter medication onto incarcerated people probably is not going to work very hard to do that,’ she said.”
33) Think Tanks/International/National: Some news on the global privatization octopus. Prime Minister Liz Truss’s attempted relaunch of fundamentalist libertarianism in Britain has exploded spectacularly on the launching pad. The political disaster holds lessons for us on what would happen if radical unfunded tax-cutting of the type long advocated by hardline “libertarian” (read corporate) activist Grover Norquist is put into effect here (Trump’s unfunded massive tax cut was disastrous). She is now flailing around trying to save her government.
Truss, a protégée of the same decades-old think tanks that originally launched the privatization movement in the late 1970s and 1980s, such as the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute, has single handedly created a massive financial crisis in the British bond market, driven up the cost of peoples’ mortgages, damaged the currency, forced a desperate bailout of large pension funds by the British central bank, and set off a rebellion in her Conservative Party over her plans to implement billions of dollars of unfunded tax cuts benefitting the ultra-wealthy. Truss has also defended the government’s role in the disastrous collapse of Carillion, the U.K.-based outsourcing giant.
Among those with egg on their faces is the Reason Foundation, which found “reasons to be optimistic” about Truss when she vaulted to Number 10 Downing Street, although one suspects they are less than enthusiastic about her now since the libertarian brand has been critically damaged in Britain. The silver lining is that the ideology of privatizing and deregulating everything is bound to take a serious hit in public opinion after decades of being propelled into public and legislative view by corporate money in the U.K. and a gusher of Koch oil money here.
While Treasury minister, Truss met with representatives from Americans for Tax Reform (Norquist’s outfit) during a visit to Washington DC, Greenpeace’s investigative unit, Unearthed, found. The taxpayer-funded trip also included meetings with the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Heritage Foundation.”
Photo by Fritz Flohr Reynolds.