- Public sector worker shortage provokes privatization creep
- New Tennessee Ed Chief grilled on pro-privatization record
- Wrong exit: Are infrastructure funds intended to address climate change being diverted?
First, the Good News
1) National: Infrastructure and green energy spending are powering the economy, the Washington Post reports. “We were expecting infrastructure spending to hit in 2024 and 2025, but it’s making its way through the economy much faster than that,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist for KPMG. “We’re getting renewed strength from infrastructure spending and other stimulus that is adding to the economy in a big way.”
2) National/Think Tanks: Jobs are sitting empty in the public sector, so unions are stepping in to help recruit. “But officials then faced a new twist. Wages in the private sector were growing faster than they had in decades, drawing people away from government jobs that had, for some, become too stressful. Civil servants also tend to be older than other workers, and more of them retired early rather than put up with mounting strain. As federal relief funds peter out, governments face difficult questions about how to maintain competitive pay. Public needs, however, have only increased.”
Last week, the Center for Economic Policy and Research released a report analyzing “employment trends in state and local public sector jobs following the Great Recession of 2008. Unlike most prior recessions, these public sector jobs struggled to recover—and in some cases, never fully came back by the time the COVID-19 pandemic’s recession hit.” How did privatization affect the chances for recovery? Very negatively:
“Some state and local governments sought to privatize certain aspects of government as a way to keep up services and balance their books. This also had negative consequences. Private investors have sought to ensure profitability by curtailing access, making services more expensive to administer, cutting corners on quality, and reducing wages and benefits for workers. In Houston, for example, privatization of the Medicaid transport program drove up costs and complaints, even as the program served fewer people. And around the country, private equity takeovers in emergency care have been associated with slower ambulance response times and more equipment failures, along with astronomical bills and aggressive collections action. Privatized services often rely on non-union contractors that are compensated less than the public sector workers they replaced, resulting in high attrition that puts the work they do in jeopardy. Many of these workers are paid so little that they rely on public benefits to get by, erasing any savings from paying them less than a government employee would have been paid.”
3) National: Donald Cohen, In the Public Interest’s executive director, says “a new report by Senator Elizabeth Warren and several colleagues in the Senate and House exposed how the tax prep companies shared personal taxpayer data with tech firms Meta and Google. For years those same tax prep companies have blocked the IRS and state governments from offering direct—and free—online ways to prepare and submit taxes. Now there’s good news. A new coalition, the Coalition for Free and Fair Filing, has launched a campaign to support the creation of a free IRS “direct file” program to be piloted next year, thanks to President Biden’s reinvestment to modernize the agency.”
The IRS is seeking input from the states on its direct file pilot program. “States will have the chance to collaborate with the Internal Revenue Service on how they may integrate with the agency’s forthcoming direct file pilot. In a July 16 letter to the Federation of Tax Administrators, which serves state tax collection agencies, IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel wrote that the tax agency is ‘interested in continuing to learn from states directly, and from [Federation of Tax Administrators], about the challenges they may face when integrating with a Direct File pilot, be they technological, policy-driven or other concerns.’” States that want to be involved in the pilot have until Sept. 4 to tell the IRS.
4) National: Route Fifty reports that “as local governments look for ways to stretch their budgets, many are turning to cooperative purchasing, where they can take advantage of the volume discounts states negotiate for office supplies, laptops and even specialized applications.” Jaime Schorr, chief cooperative procurement officer at the National Association of Chief Procurement Officials, says the main benefit is volume pricing because more entities can buy off the contract.”
In the Public Interest and the Local Progress Impact Lab have just published a report, Harnessing the Power of Procurement, saying that “given the immense amount of public money transferred to the private sector through government contracting, it is crucial that local and state governments use an approach to procurement that drives toward equity. State and local governments that use a traditional procurement approach—typically by prioritizing cost savings over all other considerations—are potentially undermining their own goals and missing out on the opportunity to advance meaningful progressive change. Without an approach to procurement that reflects public values, government contracting can result in unchecked private control over public goods and services.”.
5) National: The New York Times weighs in to say we need more public pools. “There are more than 10 million private swimming pools in the United States, according to a C.D.C. estimate, compared with just 309,000 public ones. That figure includes pools that belong to condo complexes, hotels and schools, so the number of pools truly accessible to the public is even smaller. The biggest reason so many Americans can’t swim is that they have too few places to learn to do so. By many available measures, public pools can be the safest places to swim.”
6) National: Art in America reports on “How David L. Johnson Intervenes in the Ongoing Privatization of Public Space.” “Sometimes, property owners add devices that look like medieval contraptions to them. I exhibit these spikes as sculptures, and usually place them at roughly the same level as the standpipe they were originally installed on. Each work in the series takes a different form according to the aesthetic decisions of the developer who commissioned it or the fabricator who made it. The sculptures make the removal visible, since they’re not meant to be noticed. But the work is also about the growing series of absences across the city, and the increased possibilities for loitering. That means I make most of my works by walking around in the streets, then use my studio as a space to store objects or try out installations. I’m invested in highlighting the ways that forces like real estate development, or the ongoing privatization of the city, continuously encroach on different aspects of daily life. I try to find moments where those forces become visible.”
7) Georgia: NBC reports that “a Georgia community is rallying around a Vietnamese American City Council memberafter a colleague said she was ‘un-American’ and ‘failed as a citizen of this country’ for backing a petition for multilingual voting ballots during city-level elections. (…) “I knew people would be coming to support, but I was amazed by how many people were there. The chamber was packed,” Tran told NBC News Wednesday. Morrow, which has a population of 6,400 residents, is 32.9% Asian and 22% Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census. Tran is a naturalized citizen who immigrated to the U.S. 17 years ago. She said she was motivated to propose the initiative because a significant demographic of the town is Latino and Vietnamese.”
8) New York: Let’s hear it for New Yorkers for a Fair Economy, which played a key role in the passage of the Warehouse Worker Protection Act (WWPA), which took effect a few weeks ago. “The authors of the new law, State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Jackson Heights, Queens) and Assemblymember Latoya Joyner (D-Bronx), cited workplace injury rates at Amazon warehouses across the state, including on Long Island. Statewide, the rate of injuries per 100 Amazon warehouse employees was 8.2 in 2022. On the Island, the rate was 6.4 and 5.5 at the online retailer’s two Bethpage warehouses, 9.9 in Westhampton Beach, 9.2 in Holbrook, 8.3 in Shirley-East Yaphank, 5.7 in Syosset, 4.8 in Carle Place and 1.1 in Melville, according to data that Amazon voluntarily reported to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”
New Yorkers for a Fair Economy is a campaign supported by ALIGN-NY, which is now (not missing a beat) pushing for passage of “the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act, ensuring warehouses are designed to protect workers first.”
9) Texas: The Dallas County jail has added an election day polling place after pressure from activists. “‘There are a lot of issues with absentee ballots as the primary means for ballot access in custody,’ Nicole Porter, senior director of advocacy for the Sentencing Project, told Bolts. ‘People in mailrooms don’t know how to treat ballots properly… And the jail facility itself lacks training and accountability.’ Activists have played a vital role expanding voting access behind bars by visiting local jails to register eligible voters and provide election day information. But in recent years they have also started pushing for election-day polling sites in lockups.”
10) Wisconsin: Milwaukee has won a new sales tax for pensions and public safety. “The 2% sales tax and state aid legislation requires the city to put the new revenue toward its pension obligations with a portion also going toward public safety, reflecting the city’s most urgent fiscal pressures of rising pension costs and insufficient public safety funding. Public safety accounts for 43% of its general fund spending. The county must use the revenue for its pension contributions, to pay down pension obligation bonds, and unfunded liabilities. New employees are moved to the state retirement system.” [Sub required]
11) National/Oklahoma: Can’t make this up department. Is your five year old “not ready to move forward with the tasks and speed required by first grade curriculum”? Well then what would be better for them to get ready for the big wide world that awaits them out there than sitting in front of a virtual charter school computer screen. [Sub required]
12) Arizona: Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) is raising concerns about the cost of the school voucher system to taxpayers. “A new memo released by Gov. Katie Hobbs’ office this week says Arizona’s universal school voucher program could cost Arizona nearly $1 billion. Arizona Democrats worry that the expanded universal school voucher system could be on track to bankrupt the state. A new memo released by Governor Katie Hobbs’ office this week says it could cost Arizona nearly $1 billion. (…) ‘Unaccountable school vouchers do not save taxpayer money, and they do not provide a better education for Arizona students,’ Hobbs said in a statement. ‘We must bring transparency and accountability to this program to ensure school vouchers don’t bankrupt our state. I’m committed to reforming universal vouchers to protect taxpayer money and give all Arizona students the education they deserve.’”
13) Tennessee: Tennessee Education Report says Gov. Bill Lee’s (R) new education commissioner, Lizzette Gonzalez, is tenaciously pursuing school privatization, which will undermine the state’s public schools. Chalkbeat Tennessee had an interview with the new commissioner:
Chalkbeat: “Because of your policy work with ExcelinEd, with its focus on school choice and privatization, many stakeholders think your selection suggests that voucher expansion and advancing choice programs are Job One for you under this administration. How would you respond?
Gonzalez: First of all, it’s not about privatization. Our No. 1 priority at ExcelinEd was to improve the system because we know that about 90% of our kids are in a public school system.”
14) Texas: The Houston Independent School District will be eliminating librarian positions at 28 schools this upcoming year and utilizing some of the libraries as discipline centers. Retired HISD Teacher in Charge of Library, Lisa Robinson, says “my heart is just broken for these children that are in the NES schools that are losing their librarians. (…) Mayor Sylvester Turner believes the move is unacceptable. ‘You don’t close libraries in some of the schools in your most underserved communities, and you’re keeping libraries open in other schools,’ said Turner. ‘Our less fortunate students are the ones that suffer the most; primarily because many of them live in situations that are reading deserts. They don’t have access to the reading materials. They don’t have a choice in the reading materials that they are given to read,’ said Newsum.”
Commenting in Diane Ravitch’s website, LeftCoastTeacher says, “Just goes to show that you don’t need Plessy v Ferguson and separate schools to have segregation. You simply call it a Team Center and your racist detention system might eek by. And edutech is designed to help you create a pretense of education in your school prisons.”
15) Texas: Will Greg Abbott keep losing on school vouchers? asks Josephine Lee in the Texas Observer. “Since 1995, the Coalition for Public Schools in Texas has assembled a broad spectrum of religious, child advocacy and education organizations, now with 50 groups representing some 4 million Texans. Its member organizations range from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Texas Baptist Christian Rights Commission. For 28 years, the coalition has beaten repeated efforts to privatize public schools through a voucher system. This year’s regular legislative session was no different.”
16) International: Education International (EI), the global union federation that brings together organizations of teachers and other education employees, says education unions are grappling with artificial intelligence. “Although teacher unions may not have the answers, they cannot stand by and let others determine the answers. The world’s education unions must come together and proactively shape the way emerging technologies are used in our schools and classrooms. If we snooze, we lose. (…) Yes, we must continually push for even stronger regulations, but waiting for others to defend and protect our professions is a losing strategy. And our profession cannot afford to lose…
“The artificial intelligence revolution is at the schoolhouse doorstep. As teacher unions, we must be proactive and respond. If not, we will see even more de-professionalization and commercialization of our work. All of us see a brighter future where AI can aid our educators, but we must prevent it from devaluing the educational experience, and those who work and learn in schools. Teacher unions must be at the forefront of this revolution. If not, others will determine the nature of schools, the teaching profession, and the future of education for us. In a real sense, if we snooze, we lose.”
17) International: Where does individual school fundraising and the commercialization of school activities fit into the privatization debate? “‘One of the children handed me a book and said ‘I want this one.’ Knowing the child hadn’t brought in any cash, I fumbled over my words … eventually telling him he wouldn’t be getting the book that day. The child began to cry, and I hated what I’d said, hated the…school for putting me in that position and hated the … book fair.’ That incident highlighted for [Sue] Winton some of the dangers of involving the private sector in schools. Although events like book fairs do provide benefits for schools and money for activities, not every student can participate. This led Winton to want to examine the bigger question of why there is a need for schools to fundraise in the first place. What she discovered in her research was that many educational policies of the past few decades have not only enabled private actors to take on more responsibility for schools, but have actively called upon them to do so. This has often led to practices that prioritize individual success of certain schools over the collective good.”
18) National: As the world boils in record heat, the Washington Post reports that the states siphoned off $750 million of infrastructure bill funds that were meant for addressing climate issues and used the money for other purposes. “Kevin DeGood, director of the infrastructure program at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said Congress clearly intended for money to be allocated to projects that would reduce emissions or protect against extreme weather. ‘It’s an absolute failure that this is allowed to happen,’ he said.”
19) National: Meanwhile, sweltering temperatures are taking a toll on U.S. infrastructure, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Buckled roads are relatively easy to spot and fix, but the effects of heat on buildings, pipes and electrical structures are less evident. Extreme heat wears down buildings over time and can lead to big repair bills, according to Elaine Gallagher Adams, an architect and net zero facilities solutions leader at Arcadis, a design and consulting firm. Sealants, glues and other polymer-based adhesives that hold together pipes, windows and structural joints are the materials most vulnerable to heat, she said. When they crack, it can lead to water leaks.”
20) National: Not satisfied with launching a nationwide crusade against race conscious education standards and analytical frameworks, the Manhattan Institute is now going after minority contracting. With an attack on minority contracting on the op-ed page of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, Judge Glock calls for the Supreme Court to step in. [Sub required]
21) National: Bloomberg reports that extreme heat and drought are driving opposition to artificial intelligence data centers. “‘People don’t realize that “the cloud” is real, that it is part of an ecosystem that consumes many resources,’ says Aurora Gómez, a spokesperson for Tu Nube Seca Mi Río (‘Your Cloud Dries Up My River’ in Spanish), a group created to fight the construction. ‘People are not aware of the amount of water that goes into watching a kitten meme.’ We tend to think of the internet as immaterial, but websites exist in the real world as rows of servers that never turn off, filling data centers that need to be cooled to prevent technical failures. Operators such as Amazon, Google, Meta and Microsoft use a wide array of systems to do this; the most energy-efficient ones—such as cooling towers—typically evaporate water to chill the air circulating in the buildings.” [Sub required]
22) National/Mississippi: The federal government has announced a new deal that would bring an outside expert into Jackson to fix the city’s sewer system. “Henifin will probably have to address more than 200 locations in Jackson’s sewers that the order says require immediate emergency repair. He may be able to use $125 million authorized for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ‘to design and construct improvements’ to the sewer system, the proposal said. The order is now subject to a public comment period through Aug. 31, after which Henifin would take over the sewers. Jackson’s city council first approved the stipulated order in June.”
23) District of Columbia: Who would pay for the rehabilitation of RFK Stadium, taxpayers or the eventual corporate users? Would that be the best use of valuable riverfront real estate? Or scarce city funds? The DC City Council is split on the issue. “Federal legislation that would give D.C. control of RFK introduced Thursday by Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.)and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has reinvigorated that debate, inching the District a step closer to redeveloping RFK even though concrete proposals may be a long way off. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who wants to turn the site into a Commanders stadium and mixed-use development, celebrated the bill at her event Thursday. (…) But council members, when asked by The Washington Post about their positions, varied greatly in their openness or opposition to a stadium, portending a heated debate in the months ahead about the future of the site. While they expressed broad support for Comer’s bill, enthusiasm for a Commanders stadium is lukewarm among council members.”
24) National/Texas: Rep. Congressman Greg Casar (D-Austin) hosted a vigil and day-long thirst strike at the United States Capitol in an effort to push for federal guarantees of water breaks for workers. “This comes weeks after Greg Abbott signed the ‘Death Star’ preemption bill, eliminating water-breaks for construction works and weakening other worker protections instilled by local governments. Earlier this week, Congressman Greg Casar and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia penned a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to take action on workplace heat protections through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa released the following statement: ‘During the hottest summer in our planet’s history, Greg Abbott has banned mandatory water and rest breaks for construction workers in Texas. Waking up for work in the morning should not be a death sentence. Working in Texas’ construction industry should be a good-paying, safe, and secure way to make a living – instead, Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans have turned work sites into death row.’”
Houston and San Antonio are suing the state over the law, which takes effect September 1. “Leaders expressed concerns that this new law will remove their rights to govern a city, specifically in areas like labor and environment. ‘Lawmakers have overstepped and abused their authority. This bill has and will continue to create widespread confusion and uncertainty,’ said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg in a Monday news conference. ‘The Texas legislature has attacked local control and citizens’ right to self-governance repeatedly in recent years.’”
25) National: President Biden has chosen former Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as Social Security Commissioner. “If confirmed, O’Malley would take charge of an agency riddled with challenges. Staffing levels are at a 25-year low, despite an ever-increasing number of beneficiaries, and the American Federation of Government Employees has warned that without a massive recruitment and retention spree, Social Security could soon experience a mass exodusof overworked and underpaid employees. The agency placed last in the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report.”
26) National: The Senior Executive Service is becoming less white and male, but still lags behind the rest of the federal workforce, Government Executive reports. “A lack of diversity within the SES workforce has drawn criticism from lawmakers, auditors and advocacy groups for more than 20 years. In the intervening time, Congress has held hearings in which administration officials have acknowledged progress was too slow.”
27) New Jersey/National: CoreCivic, the private, for-profit corporation operating the last remaining immigrant detention facility in New Jersey, waited too long to sue over a law barring ICE contracts, state attorneys are arguing. “CoreCivic’s motion for a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the law came nearly two years after Gov. Phil Murphy signed the legislation and it went into effect, Deputy Attorney General David Chen notes in the state’s motion opposing a preliminary injunction, filed Wednesday in federal court. ‘New Jersey’s law has been in effect for years; other facilities have since ceased providing immigration detention services and their detainees were transferred or released successfully; and nothing stopped the challengers from suing when the act took effect in 2021, without this self-created emergency,’ Chen wrote.” Oral arguments are next.
28) New York: “The federal energy assistance program that helps New Yorkers with low incomes stay cool in the summer has run out of funds, just 24 days into what’s projected to be a record-breaking summer season,” the New York Amsterdam News reports. “The program, known as the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), is administered by the state and city and provides emergency and non-emergency cooling services for years to tens of thousands of seniors and households with low incomes. However, on July 14, the New York State Office of Temporary Disability Assistance (OTDA) stated that it would not be accepting new applications for assistance this summer due to the exhaustion of cooling assistance funds.”
29) Georgia: Effingham County (outside Savannah) has decided to privatize its probation services, WTOC reports. “This is when the department head, the county manager, and the judge looked at the data and saw that if the department continued to operate at the same rate, the county would soon be in debt. By his calculations, they would be six figures in debt in just one year, he explains why. ‘If you don’t meet the obligations to meet with the probationers you essentially violate the terms of the agreement and that person has to essentially be released from probation.’ (…) Callanan says that the probation department was never meant to be a financial burden on taxpayers and in order to keep it that way, privatizing was the best option.” Note the lack of any information about how much the contracting out would cost, why it would be cheaper, and what loss of public control would be involved.
30) Think Tanks: Judith Brett takes an in-depth look at how Australia’s outsourcing disasters created a shadow public service and captured government. “I asked Senator Pocock why the PwC scandal had so angered her. She was an academic at the University of South Australia’s business school when she researched the working lives of people such as nurses and retail workers whose incomes were well below $100,000 a year. According to [Australian Financial Review], the incomes of PwC partners ranged, in pre-pandemic times, from $380,000 for junior partners to $3.9 million for the most senior partners. As Pocock says, ‘These consultants, scooping up public money, lived on a different planet from nurses and retail workers, and most of the rest of us.’”
31) National: Yesterday was National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) writes in an email, “whistleblowers have helped root out countless instances of waste, corruption, and abuse of power in our government, a necessary function for protecting the integrity of our institutions. But blowing the whistle can be a thankless job, and often even worse. Those who speak truth to power do so at great personal risk and sacrifice. No one should have to choose between their conscience and their career: There is more the government can and should do to protect whistleblowers. The Senate will be marking up the bipartisan Expanding Whistleblower Protections for Contractors Act, which will close loopholes and strengthen whistleblower protections for federal contractors and grantees who blow the whistle. We’re hoping to see this bill pass with its strong provisions intact. For more on whistleblowers, read our just-released investigation about a federal employee whistleblower retaliation case with a $1.17 million settlement—one of the largest publicly known settlements of its kind.” [S. 1524]
32) National: Was the mRNA vaccine developed to fight COVID a miracle of private enterprise? This myth rests on widespread unawareness of the key role, backed by billions of dollars ($31.9 billion to be exact), that the public sector played in the development of the drug. For how it all worked—and works—listen to Christopher Morten’s interview by Doug Henwood here. [Audio, at 27:00].
33) National: The red state brain drain is coming, says Thomas J. West. Teachers, doctors, nurses. All essential to public services. “It seems more likely than not that we’re going to start seeing a brain drain from red states, as those who live there start looking for jobs elsewhere and those who might have considered moving there decide not to do so. After all, who wants to work in a place that is so notoriously hostile to various minority groups? Who wants to put their happiness, the happiness of their families and loved ones, and even their own health at risk by moving to such a location? Red states might think that they are pulling one over on the very people that they’ve been encouraged to hate and blame all of their woes on, but it won’t be long before they start feeling the pinch. The truth is that universities are economic engines for the cities and towns in which they are located. When they start feeling the pinch of these types of restrictive and unnecessarily belligerent pieces of legislation, that’s going to have an inevitable trickle-down effect on the neighboring locales.” [Sub required]
34) New York: The thousands of migrants coming to New York City each month “are prompting officials to grapple with another issue: an existing homelessness problem,” the Wall Street Journal reports. So what is the best way to free up space in shelters? Vouchers or converting warehouses and office buildings to shelters? Christine C. Quinn, CEO of Win, a nonprofit agency that has city contracts to operate shelters for families with children, said the system was already showing strain. ‘There was a problem—a significant, significant problem—before the asylum seekers arrived,’ said Quinn, a former council speaker.” [Sub required]
35) Think Tanks: The always valuable Open Secrets has a useful graphic on how the presidential candidates stack up on cash on hand
Photo from Federal Highway Administration.