Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the corporate takeover of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Here’s a direct link to this blog post. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- The Washington Post celebrates a new golden age of public libraries
- Counterpoint’s Scott Harris interviewed Donald Cohen about the corrosive effect of “privatizing everything.”
- Activists are trying to prevent Maryland’s Purple Line light rail public-private partnership from becoming a vehicle for gentrification.
First, the good news…
1) National/International: The Washington Post celebrates A New Golden Age of Public Libraries. “The United States also has plenty of laudatory new libraries, including the recently expanded Fayetteville Public Library in Arkansas, which offers an “art and movement” room, an event center and a teaching kitchen, among other amenities. In the heart of Manhattan, the renovated Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library provides not only ample places to read but also a business center, a podcasting studio, a floor dedicated to children and teens, and a rooftop terrace. D.C.’s newly transformed Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library includes a large auditorium, conference center, rooftop terrace, cafe and music production facilities. A colorful ceiling with hanging mobiles adds to the delight. Branch libraries are also getting makeovers. The new Southwest D.C. library aims to become a neighborhood gathering place, with a meeting room that can fit 100 people and an outdoor porch area. Many notable renovations in recent years were funded by a combination of taxpayer money and private donations. Now is an ideal time for local governments in the United States to tap into American Rescue Plan funding to jumpstart a library project.”
2) National/Wisconsin: WGTD, an affiliate of NPR, will be hosting ITPI Executive Director Donald Cohen on its morning show today to discuss his new book The Privatization of Everything at 8:10-9 am Central.
3) National: Thomas Ultican wrote a review of The Privatization of Everything, the new book by In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian. “As the book makes clear, every time a public good is privatized the public loses some of their democratic rights over that lost good. This is a powerful book that everyone should read. In the last chapter the authors call out to us, ‘We can’t let private interests sell us public goods as consumers, because the free market can’t avoid creating exclusions. School choice quickly devolves into segregation. Public parks and highways are divided into general versus premium services. In the midst of a notional health crisis, ventilators go to the highest bidder.’”
4) National: Veteran labor activist and author Steve Early, who was an organizer and international representative for the Communications Workers of American between 1980 and 2007, has reviewed Cohen and Mikaelian’s book for Counterpunch. He writes, “The Privatization of Everything is not just an invaluable critique of corporate America’s fifty-year campaign to turn public goods into private profit centers, it also includes reproducible examples of successful anti-privatization fights. As the authors note, public library users in Pomona, California turned out in large numbers to block the privatization of municipal libraries, a development that would have left library employees at risk of losing jobs, pensions, and other benefits. In Atlanta, a coalition of public transit users, transit workers, and other public employees helped save the city’s bus system from a private take-over. Voters rallied by the Massachusetts Teachers Association and its allies rejected a heavily-funded attempt by the charter school industry to expand school privatization in Massachusetts. Between 2003 and 2019, more than seventy U.S. communities were able to take control of local water systems away from private contractors.”
5) National: Counterpoint’s Scott Harris interviewed Donald Cohen about the corrosive effect of “privatizing everything.” [Audio, about half an hour], as did public banking advocate and economist Ellen Brown [Audio, about 51 minutes]; Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch [Audio, about 20 minutes]; and Mississippi radio host and inspirational speaker Cyrus Webb [Audio, about 20 minutes]
6) National: Dennis Bernstein, the investigative reporter and host of KPFA’s Flashpoints program, conducted an interesting interview with Dennis Kucinich, broadening out the focus of his new book to the national and international level. His new book, The Division of Light and Power, is about his yearslong battle to defend the public interest against a rapacious power company that was ripping off Cleveland with the complicity of some public officials. There are many lessons in Kucinich’s book about how ground level opposition to the privatization of public goods, services, and infrastructure can succeed. “Kucinich is the rare bird, part of an endangered species: An honest politician. Kucinich was the youngest elected Mayor of a major American City at the age of 31, and also served in the US. House of Representatives from 1997-2013. Kucinich ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 2004 and 2008. In his latest book, The Division of Light and Power, Kucinich thoroughly details his quest to literally take on City Hall and restore, power to the people of Cleveland, surviving various assassination attempts in the process. In the Book, he gives an unprecedented, fully documented, insider’s account of dealing with all the issues that are now confronting us at the federal level.”
7) California/National: The Federal Transit Administration has awarded $545,000 to the California-based sustainable transportation research firm CALSTART, as part of a cooperative agreement to administer the agency’s new Research to Practice or R2P Initiative. “R2P will help FTA advance innovation by effectively communicating the results of FTA’s most promising research findings across the transit industry as well as develop strategies to put successful results into use on the ground. CALSTART will partner with the National Transportation Center at Morgan State University, a historically Black university, and the University of Florida’s Transportation Institute to accomplish the goals of the new initiative.”
8) Florida/National: WaterWorld reports that a $105 million federal WIFIA loan is helping wastewater treatment in Sarasota County. “‘By improving water infrastructure, we are improving the quality of life and public health in our communities,’ said EPA Region 4 Administrator Daniel Blackman. ‘Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the WIFIA loan program, EPA is happy to support Sarasota County in ensuring access to clean and safe drinking water for generations to come.’ EPA’s $105 million WIFIA loan will finance nearly half of the $214 million project costs. Sarasota County will save approximately $22 million through its WIFIA financing. Project construction and operation are expected to create an estimated 688 jobs and construction is expected to be completed in 2025.”
9) New Jersey: These are the biggest projects your tolls are funding on the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway—which are public roads—without the revenue being creamed off by the road privatization industry.
10) Pennsylvania: AFSCME District Council 33 has endorsed a progressive Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s 8th Senate District, “joining a growing list of working-class advocates backing the campaign of the educator and longtime labor movement organizer, “ Common Dreams reports. “Prescod acknowledged that ‘I’m not just up against the incumbent, I’m up against his funders as well. People like Jeffrey Yass, a billionaire that pours money into school privatization, that pours money into far-right wing projects across the state, a person who is loved by the Betsy DeVosses of the world.’ ‘They’re gonna rely on money to buy this election, but we’re gonna rely on people,’ he said.”
11) Idaho: “A guy with a clipboard saved my life.” A Boise mom has credited Medicaid expansion—and the activists who fight for it—for health care. “‘I don’t even know him, but I am alive because of him and his friends,’ Brown wrote, referring to Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville. Brown and Mayville haven’t met in person, but they have exchanged a couple of messages since Brown posted her story to Nextdoor. Reclaim Idaho highlighted her story on its own website as well. ‘They are the reason I believe in petitions now and grassroots efforts,’ Brown told the Idaho Capital Sun. ‘I was pretty pessimistic before I found out a guy with a clipboard saved my life. I didn’t know who he was, but his passion to try do something saved me, and that really means a lot to me.’”
12) National: Shawgi Tell, author of the Charter School Report Card, predicts that charter school corruption will intensify in 2022. “In many states powerful forces behind privately-operated charter schools are increasingly using the state to create new non-public entities or mechanisms that can quickly and unilaterally override democratic decisions made by mayors, voters, or elected bodies such as public school boards when they reject charter school applications or decide to close a corrupt or failing charter school. If they do not like a decision rendered by elected public officials, or even a judge, the rich and their representatives will rapidly circumvent it or overrule it no matter how damaging or unconstitutional such a decision is.”
13) California: Will L.A.’s new superintendent expand charter schools? Capital & Main takes a look. “Carvalho’s education philosophy is ‘all about choice and competition,’ says Carol Burris, executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education. ‘He’s the choice man: If you just give parents the right choices, they’ll make the right choices, and everything will be great.’ Burris is less impressed with his record. Graduation rates are the easiest numbers to boost, she says, by offering students more opportunities to pass their classes. An increase in underlying achievement numbers, like National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores, is more telling, and they remained stagnant during his tenure (particularly for Black students). The superintendent was also ensnared in a district scandal involving an online charter school, K12 Inc., which the district hired to implement distance learning for the 2020-2021 school year. In 2016, the state of California sued K12, accusing the company of failing to educate students, who returned abysmal achievement numbers, and inflating attendance rates, all while accepting public money. The lawsuit resulted in a $168.5 million settlement. Carvalho and Miami-Dade selected K12 anyway, offering it $15 million in a no-bid contract for the 2020-2021 school year.”
14) California: The Daily Bruin reports that “Drew Scott, a director for Teamsters Local 2010 Union, a union that represents about 14,000 clerical and skilled trades workers across the UC system, said if the UC starts insourcing maintenance work, it would keep its union members working while reducing the long term cost. He said their union calls upon the UC to follow its policies on contracting out, and that all UC workers deserve protection from unfair outsourcing.”
15) Florida/National: The charter school real estate boondoggle rolls on. “The campuses of three charter schools in Broward County were purchased for a combined $49 million by a company in Boise, Idaho that specializes in charter school real estate investments. In the bigger deal, AEP Charter Renaissance University LLC, managed by Stuart Ellis as CEO of Portland, Oregon-based Charter School Capital, sold the 85,233-square-foot Renaissance Charter School at University at 8399 N. University Drive in Tamarac for $26 million. The buyer was PCSD Schools LLC, managed by Brian Huffaker of Boise, Idaho-based Performance Charter School Development. CLI Capital provided a $25 million mortgage to the buyer.” [Sub required]
16) Illinois: Controversy has broken out over the Chicago Teachers Union’s firing of anti-privatization field rep Dr. John Kugler.
17) Ohio: An Ohio college privatized its energy and built a gas plant on campus, outraging students, Taylor Dorrell reports in In These Times. “About 40 students and activists march to the office of Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson on Sept. 24, 2021, demanding a halt to the construction of a $278 million gas power plant. ‘We will not give up,’ Chandler Rupert, leader of the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, blasts over a megaphone.”
18) Texas: The United Way of Greater Houston has hired Jaideep Hebbar, a former KIPP charter schools executive (where he was responsible for the charter school’s financials, data analytics and statewide growth strategy for KIPP’s 60 schools) and former investment principal at the Charter School Growth Fund. Watch this space.
19) National: “Big cars are killing Americans. The government can no longer allow the auto industry to treat walkers and bikers like collateral damage,” Angie Schmitt writes in The Atlantic.
20) National: New federal funding for broadband is bringing hope to many communities, Government Technology reports, but we have a long way to go. “But is all that money enough to help everyone? The short answer appears to be no, according to various experts. While the unprecedented funding will lead to more widespread broadband infrastructure, cost remains a significant burden for everyday Americans, and government stipends for monthly Internet bills could decrease in value. Perhaps Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, put it best: ‘If the states spend it [federal money] responsibly, it should largely resolve the challenge of people not having a network at their home. As far as the term ‘digital divide’ is concerned, we will still have tens of millions of Americans who cannot afford it.’”
21) National: In the midst of the global climate change crisis and the storms it is generating, the issue of how flood insurance should be provided in the U.S. is coming to a head. Since 1968, when private insurers left the market, insurance has been produced by The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), whose short-term reauthorization expires February 18, 2022. The private firms want back in. Should flood insurance be public, private or both? Where does the risk go if things go badly? The Congressional Research Service has just published a report looking at the issues.
22) National: Should equity be built into the infrastructure law? Brookings thinks so and has some suggestions about how to do with it.
23) National: Who are the big players in private infrastructure financing? Morningstar has a rundown.
24) National: The tolling industry has issued a statement supporting the Biden administration’s Department of Transportation draft Strategic Framework “and has made recommendations on how to ensure more sustainable transportation revenue.” The USDOT’s six goals are “safety, economic strength and global competitiveness, equity, climate and sustainability, transformation, and organizational excellence.”
25) District of Columbia: In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Dan Wittenberg of Bethesda complains that the proliferation of automated traffic camera tickets in the metro region are “de facto toll roads.” He writes, “I’m all for keeping our neighborhoods, drivers and pedestrians safe and fully support any traffic measures necessary to do so, but it is inconceivable why a straight stretch of high-speed, multi-lane, divided interstate highway should have a photo-enforced speed limit of 40 mph, other than for revenue generation. That one notorious camera has produced $34 million in fines. It’s clearly a “speed trap,” and there has even been a class-action lawsuit filed against it. Likewise with the array of speed cameras along D.C.’s miles-long section of MacArthur Boulevard. The 25 mph speed limit posted there in combination with D.C.’s automated photo ticketing system has made that major commuting artery into a de facto toll road.”
26) Florida: The South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Steve Bousquet shines a light on a Florida toll road we don’t need. “This illogical and environmentally disastrous project that refuses to die is the Northern Turnpike Extension. Four alternate routes are on the FDOT drawing board—including one Elvis himself would recognize near Yankeetown in Levy County. FDOT has to provide a full report to the governor and Legislature a year from now. Area residents and protectors of natural Florida are once again burning up social media mobilizing opposition, and two hearings are scheduled next week in Levy and Marion counties.”
27) Maryland: Public interest activists are trying to prevent the Purple Line light rail so-called public-private partnership from becoming a vehicle for gentrification. “Leaders of the Purple Line Corridor Coalition, which operates out of the University of Maryland, say the lull in major construction since the project’s prime contractor quit in September 2020 has granted more time to try to ward off the fast-rising rents that typically follow new transit stations. The concern is particularly acute for areas along the rail alignment that have remained relatively affordable in eastern Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. “The big hope is that the line is an effective transportation option for people,” said coalition member David Bowers, of Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing nonprofit. “The bigger hope is beyond the tracks – that the opportunities it brings are shared equitably among folks along the corridor. . . . We don’t want to look up one year after the Purple Line opens and see they’re gone.””
28) Maryland: The Washington Post has run a booster piece plugging the Maryland toll lanes project with a softball interview of Pierce Coffee, Macquarie’s president in North America. Coffee makes the widely criticized project sound like an exercise in public charity and inclusion when in fact this money-making boondoggle has been rammed through amidst a steady stream of pro-privatization propaganda by outlets such as the Washington Post. Coffee is a former Private Sector Member of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Commerce, Insurance, & Economic Development committee.
But as In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler has written, “The price tag on the massive toll-lane project proposed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan should scare the hell out of you—even if you don’t live in Maryland. That’s because the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—which is expected to be passed soon by Congress—would incentivize state and local governments to sign similar so-called “public-private partnerships.” Get a load of these numbers. (…) A portion of all that money will go to profit for Transurban—which just profited $2.42 billion between June 2020 and June 2021—rather than being invested in ways to improve the lives of Marylanders. Like cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Or building on innovative public safety programs where I live in Baltimore. Or speeding up Purple Line transit construction, which—ironically—is itself a public-private partnership that is draining money from the state’s coffers.”
See also Transurban Hopes to Hitch Ride on Biden’s Road Building Spree. One public comment on the project: “Public road projects should be the job of state federal government. If you have to go to private investors you have failed at your job.” [Summary Report, p. 18]
29) Mississippi: The state is poised to privatize management of some state parks. “The agency overseeing Mississippi’s public park system is on the cusp of allowing a private organization to manage the day-to-day operations at some state parks. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks is finalizing an invitation for bids from outside vendors seeking to man the functions of one or more parks, according to Jennifer Head, the director of communication and outreach at the department.” Why? “House Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee Chairman Bill Kinkade, a Republican from Byhalia, said the privatization move is the culmination of a year of his visiting state parks. “I look at things from a profitability standpoint,” Kinkade said.”
30) Puerto Rico: Politico says Puerto Rico’s shattered power grid could become a “big experiment” for Biden. “A pair of hurricanes and an earthquake left Puerto Rico’s power system in tatters. But now residents and clean-energy advocates see hope in the island’s effort to rebuild the electric grid—saying it could offer the rest of the nation a model for achieving President Joe Biden’s ambitions for a reliable power network free of greenhouse gas pollution. First, though, the U.S. territory has to get past a pitched fight over the privatization of its power grid, as well as a debate on how to leverage billions in recovery dollars from the federal government.”
31) Virginia/DC: In his interview with the Washington Post (see above) Transurban’s North America president says “My former boss used to say that the worst thing about the express lanes is when they end.” Transurban is working hard to ensure they reach that goal by extending their privatized toll lanes. Transurban’s Interstate 95 express lanes extension is already behind schedule.
32) International: Turkey’s major so-called public-private partnerships are facing a crisis as its currency declines, reports The Economist. “Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has decked out his country with scores of new bridges, tunnels, airports and hospitals. Most are public-private partnerships (PPPs), deals whereby companies construct and operate infrastructure in exchange for fees from consumers or payments from state coffers. The lira’s slide over the past year has dramatically raised the cost of PPPs to taxpayers. The government guarantees companies involved in such projects a minimum level of income, almost invariably in hard currency. Such guarantees amount to a total of $150bn in the coming two decades, estimates Ugur Emek, an academic at Baskent University in Ankara. At the start of 2021, that was equivalent to 1.1trn lira. By late December, it had risen to 1.7trn lira.” For many Turks, “the country’s currency crisis has made the crossing unaffordable.” [Sub required]
33) International: Britain’s water and sewage companies “have slashed investment in critical infrastructure by up to a fifth in the 30 years since they were privatized, according to new research that will stoke criticism over pollution and service failures, The Financial Times reports. “Ashley Smith, founder of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, said the data showed that some parts of the water industry had ‘become heavily reliant on being able to get away with illegal sewage dumping to prop up under-investment in its infrastructure.’ Water companies and their regulators have been heavily criticized by politicians for allowing high dividends and executive pay as they failed to stop pollution and leaks. The new environment act requires companies to reduce the adverse effects of sewage outflows but does not give a specific deadline.”
The picture is grim. “The torrent of sewage that poured into Tommy Stadlen’s west London home left his pregnant wife waist high in a sea of grey-brown liquid, dead rats washing into his neighbour’s flat — and a strong conviction that the water bills he had paid for 15 years had not quite delivered the quality of service expected.” [Sub required]
34) International: Barbados’ newest five-star hotel is being accused of blocking public access to one of the island’s south coast beaches. “Attorney-at-law and social activist Lalu Hanuman has raised the concern that O2 Beach Club and Spa, which officially opened one week ago, has built a wall that blocks the space where persons used to access White Sands beach. He said the development was worrying as it appeared that hotels in Barbados were trying to privatize the beaches around their properties.”
35) Think Tanks: Brookings has published a roundtable of different experts opining on built environment issues that could define 2022.
Criminal Justice and Immigration
36) National/Texas: Veteran immigration and criminal justice advocate Bob Libal is running to be Travis County Commissioner in Precinct 2. Bob and Azadeh Shahshahani recently called on President Biden to end profit-driven detention in the immigration system as well as federal prisons.
37) National: Did the GEO Group cover up for Trump? “Federal prison officials and contractor GEO Group, whose top executive was a prominent Trump supporter and seeker of more taxpayer money for private prisons, slow-walked the judge’s order. Cohen spent two more days locked up in solitary the lawsuit asserts.”
38) Alabama/National: The Alabama Political Reporter has a brief summary of its coverage throughout the year of the state’s prison crisis.
39) New Mexico: Let’s hear it for Prison Legal News. “A recent settlement could result in greater access to records held by private medical care companies that are paid millions of dollars to provide care to New Mexico’s prisoners each year. The Dec. 10 agreement between Prison Legal News—a Florida-based nonprofit monthly magazine focused on prisoners’ rights—and the state Department of Corrections requires the next prison medical care contract include a clause requiring the contractor ‘comply with all provisions of applicable New Mexico law,’ including public records laws.”
40) Tennessee: The county took over the Johnson County jail in the middle of last year from Lassalle Corrections, and has been operating it since, though it faces a staff shortage. “Johnson County commissioners and Johnson County Sheriff Adam King said the change should lead to substantial savings for taxpayers. ‘Financially and operationally it’s going to be better for our taxpayers and give us a lot more opportunity for positive impacts on our staff and inmates,’ King said.”
41) National: Drawing from In the Public Interest’s research, Thom Hartmann denounces the “neoliberal parasites” who “now want public libraries as profit centers for Wall Street.” “These firms also hide behind the veil of “trade secrets” and the 4th Amendment ‘right of privacy’ (corporations are people, too, according to 5 conservatives on the Supreme Court) to keep reporters and citizens from knowing what they’re doing to screw these communities out of their tax dollars. Not only is the public blocked from knowing what their governments are agreeing to as public functions are privatized, government itself (outside of those signing the initial contracts before moving onto well-paid jobs in the private sector) is often forbidden to know the details.”
“And now they’re after our libraries. As Caleb Nichols notes: “Flexing into a new type of market, the sky is apparently the limit for LS&S, which according to its own website has shockingly morphed into ‘the 3rd largest library system in the United States.’” The result of privatizing libraries will, no doubt, be the same as privatizing hundreds of other government functions since Reagan. Again, Nichols nails it about this corporation which, itself, is owned by a private equity company…”
42) National: Dr. Marc H Lavietes, secretary of Physicians for a National Health Program (NY Metro chapter), warns that the accelerating privatization of Medicare “health care delivery, like our democracy, is now at a crossroads between social progress and, alternately, chaos. (…) The Direct Contracting Entity (DCE) is a new model for health care finance currently being tested on Medicare recipients by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Payment via the DCE model will be based on outcomes rather on the number of individual services provided. The notion is: to improve the quality of health care while at the same time reducing cost. In truth, the DCE model is a disaster, designed to decimate Medicare and to privatize all medical care services.”
43) National: Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon, who have been tracking efforts by corporations to privatize and destroy the Veterans Administration, have shamelessly turned to a new target: the veterans themselves. “Up until now, few Republicans, or their allies like the Koch brothers–funded Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), dared to attack the VA-run Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), a sacred cow even for conservatives. Nearly six million veterans currently receive payments for service-related medical conditions that left them partially or totally impaired; among them are 1.3 million men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their total compensation, plus pensions, costs the public about $110 billion per year. Publication of a new book, touted by Trump’s last VA secretary, signals that any ceasefire over veterans’ benefits has ended inside the Beltway.”
44) National: A snowplow driver shortage across transportation departments could mean slower road clearing. “One impediment to hiring snowplow drivers is the stress of the job. During the winter months, drivers often are on call 24 hours a day, and work 12-hour shifts under terrible weather conditions. Some states have been dealing with a pandemic-related spike in retirements of state employees who operate snowplows, officials say. Other workers have quit to take different jobs.”
45) National/International: Deb Pfaff, Ph.D., associate professor of research with the Ann Caracristi Institute for Intelligence Research at the National Intelligence University (NIU), warns against the privatization of space. “Space used to be distant, ethereal, untouchable—accessible to the average person only through the lens of a filmmaker or a backyard telescope. Now, we experience space every day, perhaps without even realizing it. Use GPS to find a friend’s house and you’re relying on space. Shop for a home on Zillow? Also space. Match with a date on Tinder—you guessed it, space is involved. Rely on the government to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide for national security? That’s space. Instead of ushering us into ‘the final frontier,’ the government has allowed huge private corporations to edge it out,” she warns. “NRO needs to do some soul-searching and lead the discussion on space privatization within the intelligence community. Then it needs to make all of those findings public, as much as it can. This is a conversation with compelling implications for the future of our nation. The American public deserves to understand what’s at stake and to be privy to a transparent strategy for averting the most serious of consequences, if that even remains a possibility.”
46) National: Balfour Beatty Communities LLC, a private contractor for military housing, has pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States, agreeing to pay more than $65 million in fines and restitution. The company “subjected military families across the country to toxic mold, insect infestations, water leaks, burst pipes and other problems. (…) From 2013 to 2019, Balfour employees altered or manipulated data in property management software, and destroyed or falsified resident comment cards to make it seem like they were doing a better job than they actually were, the Department of Justice wrote.”
47) California: An angry Chico resident has written in to the Chico Enterprise-Record to blow the whistle on Waste Management and municipal officials. “I am very disappointed and angry to see that our monopoly waste service provider, Waste Management, has imposed a 33% reduction in service with no decrease in price. How is this acceptable? Currently the company collects, garbage, recycling and yard waste each week. Under the new plan for 2022, garbage will be collected each week while yard waste and recycling will be collected every other week. Was this cost increase/service reduction approved by the city? Do we have any recourse, because we have no choice?”
48) California: San Diego charter school booster Mark Powell seems to be branching out. The former board of education member, now a real estate broker, wants to privatize building inspections in the city. What could possibly go wrong.
49) Georgia: Long suffering residents of Macon are hoping their waste problems will be eased as a new contractor takes over from Waste Management. “Macon-Bibb leaders contracted with Ryland in October, ending a contract with Advanced Disposal/Waste Management. The previous company was faced with complaints about missing trash and recycling pickups. The company blamed the problem on staffing shortages. Macon-Bibb Mayor Lester Miller says the county will spend more on trash pickup but is absorbing the cost and not passing it on to residents.”
50) Louisiana: Adolph Reed Jr. asks if New Orleans is trading internet access for corporate surveillance. “In general, no Southern state is more keen on privatization than Louisiana,” says Reed. “In 2019, for instance, New Orleans became the first major U.S. city to phase out traditional public schools altogether in favor of charter schools. But in recent years, the city’s fights over police cameras have primed the population to be skeptical of more surveillance.”
51) Nebraska: Omaha.com is taking public officials to task for failing at their job of vetting contractors. “If Nebraskans needed more proof that the state made a bad decision to contract with St. Francis Ministries to provide child welfare services, an audit released last week by the State of Kansas offers that extra evidence
As reported by The World-Herald’s Martha Stoddard and Ryan Hoffman, the audit revealed that when Nebraska was awarding the contract to St. Francis, the nonprofit was already having financial problems. St. Francis had burned through its cash reserves and had taken on millions in debt, said the audit, which covered the 2016-2019 fiscal years. The nonprofit was spending a rising share of its money on management rather than its programs intended to help children. Meanwhile, the group’s then-chief executive was racking up lavish travel expenses that included first-class airfare and pricey hotels.”
52) Oklahoma/Think Tanks: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra visited the state to celebrate Medicaid expansion. “More than 230,000 Oklahomans have received life-changing healthcare coverage, thanks to Medicaid expansion that went into effect on July 1, 2021. Along with statewide partners, OK Policy has been at the forefront of working to expand coverage that helps thousands of Oklahomans build thriving families, an effort that was celebrated with the visit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. OK Policy analysis shows ensuring access to Medicaid expansion will improve quality of life for Oklahoma families and communities as well as spark economic growth.” Think Tanks make a difference.
53) National/Think Tanks: Route Fifty’s Bill Lucia has a very useful retrospective on the year in state and local government. “Overall, state and local governments and the people who work for them have in many ways demonstrated an immense amount of resilience during the past two years. They’ve adapted and pivoted to respond to an unprecedented public health crisis, managed the transition to remote work and other major shifts in their own operations and dealt with a rollercoaster of uncertainties over what will come next with the virus, the budgets they oversee, and broader economic turmoil. The Covid-era has been a historic test for state and local governments. Here’s to hoping that it doesn’t last much longer.”
54) National: Desperate for state workers, governors are offering raises to keep them. “Nationally, pay increases should help attract and retain workers who provide vital public services, from caring for people in state hospitals to clearing snow from highways and managing state prisons. But worker advocates argue that, in some cases, the proposals don’t go far enough. ‘Raising the floor … is good. A 5.5% cost-of-living adjustment is good. Is it adequate? No,’ said Richard von Glahn, policy director for Missouri Jobs with Justice, a nonprofit that advocates for workers in the state.”
55) California: In San Francisco’s most polluted neighborhood, the polluters operate without proper permits, reports say. “A confluence of polluting sources have dominated the four square-mile neighborhood for decades, and a state environmental analysis identified the Bayview area as having the highest cumulative pollution burden in the city. State and local agencies should be actively trying to reduce the pollution in Bayview, local advocates said. Instead, they have continued to allow polluting facilities to operate there without final pollution permits. (…) Williams, the law clinic staff attorney, said facilities operating without valid permits should be shut down in the interim, instead of just given a slap on the wrist in the form of fines. Lax enforcement on the part of the air district is indicative of a more widespread pattern and practice of not protecting the Bay Area’s disadvantaged communities, he said. ‘The bottom line is that the district should not be putting more polluting facilities where there are already a ton of polluting facilities,’ Williams said.”
56) Utah: CJ Alexander, writing in the Daily Utah Chronicle, says we must protect fossils from privatization. “Dinosaurs roamed the Earth so long ago that their remaining skeletons serve as our only means to learn about them. It’s mind-blowing that we get to study these ancient creatures and learn their history through their bones. Experts willingly share this piece of history in museums and public collections for the general public to admire. However, private collectors have absurdly claimed ownership of these skeletons before they’re even dug up from the ground. As a patron of museums and a dinosaur enthusiast, it’s saddening to see dinosaur fossils being auctioned off to wealthy people who keep these tremendous creatures to themselves.”