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First, the Good News…

1) National: The Biden administration has opened applications for expanding passenger rail under the infrastructure law. “The $2.3 billion to expand or establish passenger service on routes outside of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor ‘will reshape America’s passenger rail network for generations to come,’ said Amit Bose, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The grants are open to Amtrak, states, Washington, D.C., federally recognized Indian tribes and local governments. Those applicants can also apply for projects using private passenger rail companies (like Brightline in Florida), but the applicants would still be responsible for administering the funds and delivering the project.”

2) National/California: ICE plans to stop detaining immigrants at Yuba County Jail, KQED’s The California Report says. “A Bay Area member of Congress says federal immigration authorities plan to end their contract with a Northern California county jail, the last public facility in the state to hold immigrants fighting deportation. It comes after years of outcry over substandard conditions.”  

The Davis Vanguard reports that “the Yuba Liberation Coalition, which has been fighting to end the contract since April 2021, said, ‘Directly impacted individuals, advocates and legal service providers have worked tirelessly for years to end the contract between ICE and the Yuba County Jail.’ Members of the Coalition include but are not limited to the ACLU of Northern California, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, Carlos Sauceda, Faithful Friends, and Pangea Legal Services, among others. In response to the contract termination the organization responded, ‘Today we proudly celebrate the end of a lucrative agreement that caused immense harm to our communities. We call for the immediate release of the remaining detained community members—we have depopulated the facility in the past without transfers and believe this is both possible and just.’”

Sarah Paoletti of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and Azadeh Shahshahani of Project South have weighed in with a powerful op-ed in The Hill, asking where the accountability is for ICE abuses. “Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas finally directed ICE to cease its relationship with Irwin County Detention Center for the detention of immigrants. Unfortunately, that directive was followed by new and expanded contracts with private, for-profit prison corporations in the business of imprisoning immigrants. Notable among those was ICE’s expanded arrangement to incarcerate women at the previously male-only Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., despite reports of medical neglect and abuse at this ICE prison, including the deaths of at least 10 immigrants. Less than a year later, women detained at Stewart filed a complaint alleging accounts of sexual assault at the hands of a nurse, and alleging subsequent mistreatment and the mishandling of their complaints.”

3) National/Illinois: Borderless reports on how local officials and community members are stepping up to deal with an influx of asylum seekers and immigrants being pushed into Chicago by conditions south of the border and Republican governors like Texas’ Greg Abbott. “When other groups of immigrants arrived in Chicago, many had private sponsors, special immigrant visas or refugee resettlement benefits through the federal government, Willman said. But the people who arrived this summer and fall from Texas aren’t in that position, and need help settling into the city, she said. Officials also saw more people staying in Chicago than did in New York or D.C. ‘How do we support [them] when it’s not normally been our role? I think that’s … what we’re all working together to figure out,’ Willman said. (…) 

“As buses of 50 to 100 people arrived, Chicago officials received a few hours’ heads-up that a new bus was on its way—or none at all. Soon, the buses came nearly every other day. Officials had no way of knowing what the people on board would need after enduring month-long journeys from home. Despite zero communication or coordination from Texas, Chicago leaders committed to helping. City and state officials turned hotels and vacant buildings into temporary shelters. Gov. JB Pritzker declared a state of emergency and activated Illinois National Guard members to receive people at shelters. Local nonprofits staged donation drives. Community partners volunteered their time to feed, transport and clothe people. Schools enrolled hundreds of newly arrived kids.” 

4) National: Migrating animals may be getting protection even on private land thanks to intergovernmental cooperation. “The conservation of migrating wildlife, including mule deer, pronghorn and elk, is the focus of a new agreement signed by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The memorandum of understanding provides a framework for how the state and USDA will work with voluntary landowners in Wyoming to modify outdated and deadly barbed wire fences, avoid development and restore degraded habitat in areas deemed important for migrating animals. This innovative agreement can and should be a guide for other states.”

5) California: California state authorities will close one state prison and end its lease of CoreCivic’s facility in Kern County. “Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement that they took into consideration a number of factors — including the cost of operating the institutions, the effect the closures would have on nearby cities and the local workforce, and public safety needs—in deciding to close Chuckawalla Valley and end its lease of the California City Correctional Facility. The state pays $32 million a year to a private company, CoreCivic, to hold inmates in the contracted facility outside of Mojave. Officials said they intend to terminate the lease in March 2024 and close Chuckawalla Valley by March 2025.” 

But CoreCivic plans to lobby the legislature to try and overturn the decision. It “plans to engage with the state of California regarding the continued utilization of the [California City Correctional Center (CCCC)] by the CDCR due to its modern infrastructure, efficient design, and comprehensive maintenance program.”

6) District of Columbia: The DC City Council has approved a proposal to bring free buses to the District. “The vote is part of a nationwide movement toward free or reduced-fare transit that gained momentum during the pandemic, which highlighted the role of public buses in transporting essential workers and those who have no other alternatives. The measure also aligns with the city’s goals of increasing transit usage and removing vehicles from clogged city streets. All 13 council members voted to subsidize bus service, with many saying that cutting fares will give lower-income residents with limited transportation options more financial security in one of the nation’s most expensive cities, while also removing a burden for job seekers and businesses struggling with labor shortages. More than 80 percent of Metrobus users in D.C. live in the District. ‘This is something that is one of those rare win, win, wins,’ said council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the initial author of the legislation. ‘Deep, immediate, meaningful impact for working families all across our city.’”

7) Massachusetts: Massachusetts “could be the birthplace of a dental revolution. Here’s why,” says the Boston Globe. “The roughly $18 million in spending underscores the high stakes: Question 2 will impose financial reporting rules for dental insurers in Massachusetts and require them to devote at least 83 percent of premiums they collect to patient care, or rebate the difference. Now, the overwhelming support for the measure — 72 percent of Massachusetts voters were in favor — has emboldened dentists in other states to embark on their own campaigns. The Question 2 legislation was considered the first of its kind to become state law. If industry chatter is any indication, it won’t be the last.”

8) New Mexico: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) wants the state government to help provide school lunches without charge to all K-12 students across the state. “The newly reelected Democratic governor alluded to the proposal Tuesday during a speech in Philadelphia to a convention on public health policy. ‘Starting right now, no one pays for a meal in school,’ Lujan Grisham said. ‘And this doesn’t just mean pizza slices and chocolate pudding.’ New Mexico distributed millions of free meals to children during the outset of the coronavirus pandemic across the state’s 89 school districts, in efforts underwritten by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The new initiative backed by the governor would build on efforts to combat hunger by offsetting co-payment charges for school meals.”


9) National: Is the school bus driver shortage driving the creeping privatization of public school transportation systems? “The headline-grabbing national school bus driver shortage has forced districts to make a series of grim choices. Are there any better alternative strategies to address the problem? Some say one partial solution might come from an emerging roster of tech-oriented transportation companies, described by some educators as the Ubers or Lyfts for school buses, such as HopSkipDrive and Zum. Both companies, and their competitors, offer districts an alternative for some of their niche bus routes. That might mean transporting students experiencing homelessness who may wind up outside their school’s traditional boundaries, kids with special needs, or students in foster care who can remain in their school of origin, according to federal law. (Importantly, the companies emphasize that they are very different from rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, though they use similar technology to track riders and drivers.) Getting those routes handled by an outside company takes some of the pressure off districts, freeing them up to assign drivers to routes that serve a greater portion of the student population.” [Sub required]

10) National/Washington: Bloomberg reports that “a former Inc. vice president was paid more than $800,000 in 2021 to run Jeff Bezos’s preschool network, which, for most of that year, consisted of just one location with 13 students. Michael George, who spent more than two decades at Amazon, received the pay package while overseeing the Bezos Academy in Des Moines, Washington, a ‘Montessori-inspired’ preschool aimed at low-income children. While the network of tuition-free schools expanded in Washington late in 2021—with additional locations planned in Texas and Florida—George’s base salary in the academy’s first full year of operation was $800,452, plus another $28,000 in benefits, according to the annual tax form filed by Bezos’s nonprofit. He received similar compensation in 2020, during most of which there were no schools open at all.” [Sub required]. 

Incoming New York City schools Chancellor David Banks’ salary is set at less than half of this, $363,346.

11) California: IndyBay discussed the connection between the University of California strike and the fight for housing and against privatization. “There is a connection of the striking UC UAW workers and the fight against privatization and corporatization of the University of California. The privatization has been going on for many decades according to UCB Geographer Gray Bechin who is also author of ‘Imperial San Francisco’ and Harvey Smith with People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group. They discuss how the billionaires through the UC Regents have privatized the college and have contributed to the housing crisis through their support of gentrification.”

12) Ohio: Public education supporters are opposing a fast tracked education overhaul bill backed by the right-wing, Koch-backed Buckeye Institute, and designed to counter what Republicans consider the existing education department’s “malevolence” toward “school choice” and “EdChoice private school voucher program processes.” The Ohio Capital Journal reports that the “public school education coalition Honesty for Ohio Education panned the fast-tracked vote. ‘Instead of collaborating with policymakers, the Department of Education, educators, administrators, and communities to build a sustainable solution that would address these very complicated issues, lawmakers are prioritizing a solution that creates more problems than it solves,’ said coalition director Cynthia Peeples.”

Republicans are pushing a voucher expansion program they say will bring about “school choice.” Republican state Sen. Sandra O’Brien said “the bill would increase homeschool tax credits from $250 to $2,000, and give $5,500 to students in kindergarten through eighth grade and $7,500 to high school students, to be used “at any public, community, or chartered non-public school.” 

13) Texas: Jennifer Berkshire warns that the “school choice lobby” is “stoking *political vitriol* against trans kids in an effort to win school vouchers.” Their organizations and deep pocketed donors are “intent on dismantling public education,” Berkshire says.

14) Washington: ProPublica’s local reporting network and the Seattle Times’ Lulu Ramadan, Mike Reicher and Taylor Blatchford have produced an in-depth report on how a billion-dollar corporation exploits Washington’s special education system. “‘It is truly like living in the dark ages,’ she wrote about the school, detailing its cost cutting at the expense of students. ‘I cannot ethically or morally be a part of this any longer.’ Northwest SOIL’s corporate owner, Universal Health Services, has for years skimped on staffing and basic resources while pressuring managers to enroll more students than the staff could handle, an investigation by The Seattle Times and ProPublica has found. The psychiatric hospital chain touted its first acquisition of special education schools in 2005 as a ‘comfortable fit’ with its businesses, and Northwest SOIL staffers said they saw the profit motive drive day-to-day decisions.” 


15) National: Forbes looks at current trends in university student housing  “The campus building boom raises several interesting issues. Will increased student demand for on-campus housing continue, or is it a fad? How much pressure will it exert on colleges to initiate housing projects that they might not be able to afford, in an attempt to keep up with the competition? How will local landlords and private developers react? Will public-private partnerships become the main mechanism for campus construction? With billions of dollars at stake and the competition for students ever more fierce, universities and their home communities will be monitoring these questions closely.” 

16) National/North Carolina: What are the implications of the violent attacks on North Carolina power facilities for the wider planning process for infrastructure development and maintenance? “Even before the gun assaults Saturday in Moore County, North Carolina, wiped out power for days to thousands, at least five electricity substations in Oregon and Washington had been attacked in November, according to energy companies,” CNN reports. What is the proper role of government, and of private infrastructure companies, in assessing, addressing and paying for the hardening of infrastructure and recovery efforts after attacks? Although the North Carolina attacks came as a surprise to many, warnings about the vulnerability of infrastructure to everything from physical terrorist attacks, to climate change, to cyberattacks have been around for a while. There is even a federal agency (CISA) dedicated to dealing with the issue, a Strategic Plan, and a Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council. And as readers of the Privatization Report might expect, there are contractors and lobbyists out there claiming that ‘public-private partnerships’ have a “critical role” to play “to leverage the combined resources and expertise of government, industry and other stakeholders.” If ever there was an issue where maintaining public accountability and control is necessary, this is arguably it. 

17) National/Ohio: Can government action help small individual homebuyers compete against giant private equity funds to gain access to housing? Community members and officials are taking a stab at it in Cincinnati. “These out-of-state investment firms were making it harder for local residents to buy homes, especially low- and middle-income buyers. With sky-high mortgage rates and a tight supply, it’s already been a tough year for new homebuyers across the country. Now communities are mobilizing to make it more difficult for investors to rent out the properties they purchase.  In Cincinnati, The Port was able to acquire nearly 200 properties that it is now working to sell to the tenants at an affordable price. This is just one approach governments are using to combat the issue. Panelists at the HUD event say there are several strategies governments can try to prevent investors from dominating the market.”

18) National: Effective criticism over the past decade by public interest groups and elected leaders of the significant shortcomings of “public-private partnerships” seems to have left a resentful mark on the road privatization lobby. Both the Reason Foundation and Public Works Financing recently have ventured forth with old wine in new bottles, trying to discredit critics of P3s for either trashing the privatization industry’s “Value for Money Analyses” [Public Works Financing, November 2022, front page; sub required] or for having publicly accountable bodies make the decisions. 

Why the sudden urge to reheat old leftovers from ideological battles over road privatization of 20 years ago? Maybe because over a trillion dollars of federal money is on the table—lowering financial risk, promoting project efficiency, and reducing tolling—and that the old bromides and old business models aren’t working.  

As has been pointed out before by the many critics of P3s, there are problems with these industry takes. First, it is false to suggest that public interest groups and public structures don’t want accurate assessments.  Everyone should support accurate and complete Value for Money analyses, including those VfMs that actually look at project delays and financial and environmental risks—and don’t just take the privatization industry’s word for it that they do better on efficiency and risk, which has always been based more on libertarian hot air than empirical reality. 

As the economy faces difficulties, old tactics from the 2008-2009 recession are being reheated, perhaps the most famous being “desperate government is our best customer.” The public sector should conduct a sober analysis of real project costs and delivery times instead of succumbing to their supposed financial desperation and accepting way more expensive private money just because it is being dangled in front of them. That said, the whole point of the Biden administration’s infrastructure law is to ease this burden and enable federal, state and local officials to make infrastructure decisions without a gun to their head, which can lead to bad decisions or the abandonment of necessary projects (Jackson, Mississippi anyone?). Of course, people who want to lend money at a higher interest rate don’t like that. We prefer the public interest to higher interest.

So on this subject there’s an open door but also some conditions: let’s compete on the basis of real numbers and real public interest assessments made by democratically accountable public bodies and not some stitched-up captive agency P3 offices cobbled together by the industry and their ALEC-fueled cronies to bypass public finance watchdogs and produce boosterish soundbites for the media. 

19) National: With time running out toward a final decision on where to invest federal broadband development money, state officials are clamoring for more time. “The concern among state and local officials is that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will use the FCC’s map to decide by June 30 how to spread around the rest of the money, which is the bulk of what’s available. The agency will determine how much each state will get based on the extent to which they have poor internet access. State and local officials acknowledge that the latest map more accurately shows what parts of the country have, or do not have, adequate service compared to a previous version. But still, state broadband directors and others see significant flaws.”

One problem: “‘What we’re seeing is that a lot of these buildings in high poverty areas are being marked as served and we know for a fact that they’re not,’ Quinn added. EducationSuperHighway, a national nonprofit that advocates for increasing broadband access, founded the No Home Left Offline Coalition, whose members include the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and African American Mayors Association.” 

20) Michigan: Wireless in-road charging will be coming to your home town, but who gets it and how? The Detroit Free Press has a story about how it’s coming to the Motor City. “The future of powering electric vehicles may soon be under your nose. Your feet, actually. By summer 2023, about a mile of road in Detroit’s bustling Michigan Central Station district should contain inductive charging coils, the first step in a program that aims to address some of the biggest challenges to EV adoption: cost, weight, range and electricity generating capacity. The joint project includes the state of Michigan, city of Detroit and several private companies. The federal Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Lab also is working on wireless in-road charging.” [Sub required]

21) Mississippi: Last week Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the city attorney and the new third-party manager, called a town hall to discuss a way forward out of the city’s water crisis. “Research is underway to identify grants to fund these changes. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba says the city is not planning to raise the price of tap water, but won’t rule out adjustments either. ‘Let’s understand the heart of what the whole fight against privatization and the whole fight against regionalization is about,’ says Mayor Lumumba. ‘It is about the customer and not charging them rates that they can’t afford. So we wouldn’t have that whole war, right, in order to turn back around and accomplish the same thing on the back end.’ [Ted Henifin, the DOJ overseer,] is currently searching for water operators and says that the city’s public works staff will have opportunities to switch their employment if they qualify. Employees who choose to not make that change will be relocated within the public works department.”

22) International/Think Tanks: More than 70% of England’s water industry is under foreign ownership. “More than three decades after the sector was sold off with a promise to the public they would become individual small shareholders or “H2Owners”, control of the water industry has become dominated by overseas investment vehicles, the super-rich, companies in tax havens and pension fund investors. The ownership structure is such that transparency and accountability are limited, according to Dr. Kate Bayliss, a research associate with the department of economics at SOAS University of London. (…) Macquarie, which reported half-yearly profits of more than £1.3bn in November, owns 62% of Southern. Another 15% of the water company is controlled by the US investment firm JP Morgan Asset Management.” See also Kent Buse and Kate Bayliss, “England’s Privatised Water: Profits Over People and Planet,” British Medical Journal/The BMJ, August 2022. 

Public Services

23) National: Washington Post Opinion Writer Helaine Olen deplores the growing number of enrollees in Medicare Advantage. “Medicare Advantage plans, which are private insurance plans for seniors paid for with federal dollars, originated as a government savings strategy, on the theory that the private sector could improve on government performance at a lower cost. But over the past two decades, it has become clear that Medicare Advantage does not result in improved care for less money. Instead, it will come as no surprise to Americans familiar with the health insurance industry that insurers found a way to turn it into yet another profit center, while putting bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of patients.” 

24) National: Somewhat lost in the media storm over Supreme Court oral argument over the so-called Independent States Legislature Theory (ISLT) was the question of a how a bad Supreme Court decision would affect the work of state and local election officials. There was an amicus brief, written by local government law professors, that deals with it that is worth reading. “This brief from seven professors of local government law explains how local election officials ensure smooth elections and how the ISLT would complicate their work. It also sheds light on how state courts respond to practical problems that emerge during elections, including by ensuring that local officials properly use their discretionary authority. The Public Rights Project is counsel for this brief.”

25) California: Writing in Counterpunch, Steve Martinot says the militarization of police is getting out of control. “The issue of police militarization has been raised recently over the bestowal of military grade weapons to local police departments by the Department of Defense,” Martinot writes. “Their gifts include assault rifles, flash-bang grenades, armored vehicles (aka tanks), drones, tear gas, and others. Since standard police practices are already militarist, are these weapons simply the icing on the cake, signifying DoD approval for the way the cops deal with disobedience? The issue of this military equipment has become so controversial that the California legislature has even passed a bill (AB 481) requiring city governments to be diligent, and pass an ordinance on each item of military equipment that the police wish to adopt.”

But from POGO, there is emailed news of some progress on whistleblowing in this area: “This year, lawmakers included reforms (in the NDAA) to better insulate government watchdogs and improve oversight of a program that sends excess military equipment to police forces. The POGO team has been working tirelessly to get Congress to pass these reforms, and it’s great to see these results.”

By the way, did you know or remember that the iconic movie of this genre, Robocop, was about an out-of-control privatized police force? “The Detroit Police Department is a privatized police force owned by Omni Consumer Products. OCP took on the responsibility of funding, running and secretly undermining the police precincts to further their own goals. By holding back funds from the department they ensure that cops cannot do their jobs effectively.”

26) Connecticut: Greenwich Time reports on pushback against privatization of the town’s care facility. “While officials debate options including privatization of the town-owned Nathaniel Witherell, its executive director says that leaving it in town hands would be the best option of all. “The ideal is what we’re doing now, which is community based and owned,” said John Mastronardi, the nursing home’s executive director. ‘When you’re not-for-profit, any profits go directly back into taking care of the residents we serve. I’ve always worked in non-profits exactly for that reason. It’s not about shareholders. It’s about the residents we care about.’ (…) ‘The residents of Greenwich pay for lots of different things. I don’t want to act like $90 a year is not a big deal, but I think one thing Witherell has done over the years, even before I got here, is really take care of people in the town,’ he said. “We’re taking care of people’s parents. We’re taking care of police, fire and EMTs or teachers. We’re taking care of their family members. We’re continuing to take care of them and I don’t think that ($90) is a lot of money to take care of all those folks.’” 

27) Michigan: A Republican Congressional district chairman in Michigan is calling for the aggressive closure of a public library over the presence of LGBTQ books, Bridge Michigan reports. “The train depot-themed library has received national attention since residents twice this year voted to defund their public library in a fight over graphic novels that some opponents liken to pornography or “grooming” children to be sexually assaulted. Library officials have declined to remove the books, but did move one of the books behind the counter. By rejecting the millage requests, residents took away about 84 percent of the library’s $245,000 annual budget. Fundraising campaigns and a recent $100,000 donation by an Ottawa County family have given the library enough funds to stay open through early 2025.”

28) Nevada: The Associated Press reports that “a Las Vegas woman says her son and dozens of other prisoners are on a hunger strike over inhumane living conditions at Nevada’s Ely State Prison. Nina Fernandez says her son alleges abuse by prison staff and excessive periods of solitary confinement.” AP says “No food in 9 days for 19 Nevada prisoners on hunger strike.”

29) International: Is a giant private pharmaceutical company unlawfully profiteering off blood donations? “The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO/NUPGE) and are calling on the provincial government to investigate the terms of an undisclosed agreement between Canadian Blood Services (CBS) and the multi-national pharmaceutical giant Grifols. Their call is supported by MPP France Gélinas, the NDP health critic. The agreement could violate the Voluntary Blood Donations Act in Ontario, granting Grifols a monopoly on paid-plasma collection and designating the private company as a third-party collector. Through this agreement, CBS has essentially created a 2-tier system for plasma collection in Ontario, and sold market access to Canada’s donor base to a foreign-owned company, abandoning their duty to the Canadian public.”

Meanwhile, in Alberta, controversy has broken out over the recent privatization of community lab services in the province. “Chris Gallaway, the executive director of Friends of Medicare, says, overall, this continues to be a bad deal for Albertans, though it’s a sweet deal for DynaLIFE. “DynaLIFE is taking over the majority of our community lab services, which means we’re giving up control. We have a fragmented system now, where some communities will have DynaLIFE, others will still have public lab services. We’re also quite concerned about the workers in the system, who have kind of been tossed back and forth over the years with Calgary public labs and Alberta public labs and now DynaLIFE,” Gallaway said. The HSAA worries this transition is not as smooth as being claimed. Parker says the frontline workers involved are suffering the most. “The employer (DynaLIFE) is saying absolutely no to their (frontline workers) retirement security in the form that it is under a pension. There is apprehension about shifts schedule, worksites, locations. Heck, I even got one person saying the gloves that they require, are not provided by this new employer.” 

30) International: France will make condoms free for those under 25 to fight a rise in STDs. “The move, which comes as high inflation squeezes household budgets, aims to fight a rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among young people. The measure was initially aimed at young adults aged 18 to 25, but Macron, who described it as ‘a small revolution in prevention,’ said on Friday the free condoms would be available to minors too. Details of the plan are not yet known, nor do we have any estimate of its cost. French health authorities estimate that the rate of STDs across the country increased by about 30 per cent in both 2020 and 2021.”

Everything Else

31) National: How much of the $858 billion authorized by the FY2023 Pentagon funding bill (NDAA) will be transferred to military contractors? Stephen Semler estimates $452 billion. “Military spending is fundamentally a redistribution of wealth. This is why the arms industry spends so much money on things like lobbying, campaign contributions, and think tanks—they’re all useful in helping drive up funding for the Pentagon, and that means more money for them.”

Photo by Jason V.

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