1. National: The National Employment Law Project’s Paul Sonn and Tsedeye Gebreselassie, along with CAP’s Karla Walter and David Madland, chart the growing strength of responsible contracting policies. “State and local leaders can do more to raise standards for government-supported work. Growing numbers of state and local governments are adopting additional ‘responsible contracting’ reforms to improve the quality of jobs generated by their procurement spending—a suite of policies to help raise the wages and improve the benefits of workers who are employed by contractors; to ensure that only law-abiding companies that respect their workers receive government contracts; and to contract out only those services that public employees cannot capably and cost-effectively perform.”

2. NationalHunger strikes by immigrant asylum seekers continue at the Adelanto ICE detention center operated by the for-profit GEO Group and the Hutto detention center operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in south Texas, amid reports of abuse. “We will not eat until we see our freedom.” [Asylum seekers’ letter]

3. National: In the wake of a scathing report on their performance, even pro-charter school groups are distancing themselves from online charter schools. “‘I don’t know that the charter space is a perfect fit for online schools,’ said Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a prominent national charter advocacy group. The poor performance of online schools revealed in the report was ‘alarming,’ Rees told BuzzFeed News. ‘Our first reaction was that we have the power and means to shut some of these schools down, and we should.’”

4. National: Governing magazine looks at the hidden costs of “Pay for Success.” “The Massachusetts project, which launched in late 2014, rounded up more than $20 million from investors. But the time and cost it took to design the project exposes a major, potential deterrent to other nonprofits interested in developing a pay for success project for a government.”

5. National: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), weighs up different types of charter schools. “Unfortunately, some charter proponents have shifted the intent of charters from incubating ideas and sharing successes to competing for market share and taxpayer dollars. A pro-charter group in New York recently ran deplorable ads suggesting they care more about equity than Mayor de Blasio does. The reality is that some charter school operators want to take public funds yet behave like private entities that can play by different rules.”

6. NationalCharter schools educate fewer special education students. “Some states have an even greater imbalance. New Jersey’s traditional public schools have an average special education enrollment of 15.4 percent, compared to charter enrollment of 9.15 percent. Florida, with 392 charter schools, has greater than a 3 percentage-point gap in traditional-to-charter enrollment of students with disabilities.”

7. National: Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton releases her plan for veterans health care. “In her proposal, Mrs. Clinton struck a balance between support for traditional government-run veterans health programs while acknowledging that many veterans want to access care from private providers as well, given the system’s failings.” [Plan details]

8. National: NPR reports that as asylum seekers swap prison beds for ankle bracelets, the same firm profits. “These immigrant women—with their fussy kids eating french fries—have no idea that their odyssey through the American asylum process is making tens of millions of dollars in profits for a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The GEO Group calls itself ‘the world leader in private correctional, detention management, and community residential re-entry services,’ and ICE is one of its major customers.”

9. National: For-profit prison companies GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) hit new 52-week lows on their stock prices.

10. National: Twelve Cornell students from Black Students United kick off a campaign to get Cornell to divest from for profit prison companies by delivering a letter to president Elizabeth Garrett’s office. “In their letter, BSU outlined four major demands of the University. They insist that the University cease investments in companies that include Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group Inc. and G4S USA Secure Solution; no longer use the G4S security system in the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art; issue an official University statement on Cornell’s involvement with the private prison industry and grant organizers a meeting with the University’s Investment Committee.”

11. National: The Congressional Research Service has prepared a report on “Federalism Issues in Surface Transportation Policy: A Historical Perspective.” CRS’ Robert Jay Dilger writes, “interest groups representing both the private and public sectors have historically been united in their advocacy of additional federal funding, but have been divided over how program funds should be allocated, both among states and among transportation modes. Congress has tended to arbitrate the differences among these varied interests by balancing the need to promote the national interest with the recognition that, for the most part, state and local government officials have proven over time to be relatively capable administrators of surface transportation programs.”

12. Arizona: The transportation department receives three bids for the South Mountain Freeway Public Private Partnership (P3) Project. “Proposal evaluations, involving scores of technical experts, are underway. A best value determination and proposer rankings are expected by mid-January 2016.”

13. California: Opponents debate a proposal by billionaire Eli Broad, author of The Art of Being Unreasonable, to massively expand charter schools in Los Angeles. “Facing off with [Broad Foundation executive director] McGinity was school board President Steve Zimmer, who swiftly and strongly opp
osed the Broad plan when The Times made it public in September. Zimmer said that he is not sure L.A. Unified can survive the charter plan, and that students would be harmed as a result.”

14. Colorado: Chalkbeat Colorado takes a look at why Colorado conservative education activists lost in the recent school board elections. Lynea Hansen, a political consultant to recall organizers, sees the result as a pushback against corporate education reform. “Many conservatives voted for change last night, as well as unaffiliateds and Democrats. What I think we really saw were communities seeing the importance of school board elections, many for the first time, and taking an interest in making sure our public schools stay just that—public.”

15. District of Columbia: Lawmakers look at steps to fix the district’s contracting system, which has been marred by corruption and poor transparency. Two proposals are being considered. One, by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), would strengthen council oversight and “require the Office of Contracting and Procurement to make more information about contracts and prospective vendors available publicly and to the council during the review process.” The other, by Mayor Muriel Bowser, would weaken council oversight, “allowing the mayor’s office to sidestep council review of additional option years for contracts that have already been approved. The mayor’s plan would also allow her office to avoid seeking council approval at times when vendors and agencies have modified a contract, pushing the overall cost past $1 million.”

16. Connecticut: Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, provides a timeline of the sorry saga of efforts to replace the crumbling Stamford railroad station parking garage, including an effort to set up a “public private partnership” (P3). Cameron says “those facts speak for themselves. My only opinion: If CDOT can so mismanage a small project like this, what’s going to happen when Gov. Malloy gives it $100 billion to spend on his 30-year transportation plan?”

17. Indiana/National: Opposition mounts against building a GEO Group-operated federal immigration detention center in Gary. The mayor has come out in opposition after days of protest. Rev. Cheryl Rivera of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organization “believes that opposing detention centers and many harsher provisions for immigration law is also inherent in what she thinks the United States as a nation ought to be about. ‘This was a country built on the concept of freedom and it should be for all people,’ said Rivera, while adding, ‘it’s also true that this is a country that was built on immigrant and slave labor.’”

18. Iowa: Service providers warn that Gov. Branstad’s Medicaid privatization plan “could force smaller organizations to close and leave people they serve scrambling to find needed services.” Implementation of the plan requires federal approval. AFSCME Iowa Council 61 is urging Iowans to petition the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to reject the outsourcing plan.

19. Kansas: The chair of the Sedgwick County Commission wants to privatize Wichita’s transit system. Commissioner Richard Ranzau “suggested less emphasis on bicycle and pedestrian transportation and a bigger emphasis on property rights. Those suggestions differ from the Wichita City Council’s plans for transportation and community growth.” The City Council will review the recommendations from the county and Metropolitan Area Planning Commission tomorrow.

20. Montana: A proposal to create for-profit colleges of osteopathic medicine “has sparked alarm among some Montana doctors. It may make money for investors and it may be an economic boon for cities and construction contractors, they say, but they have serious doubts it would benefit Montana patients or provide quality training of Montana doctors.”

21. New YorkBinghamton citizens fight to block the privatization of the Broome County Central Foods and Nutrition Department to Aramark. “After the meeting at Woodburn Court One, residents and members of Citizen Action went to the county budget hearing, where they argued for legislators to rethink the plan to use Aramark—citing health concerns and also adding that anticipated casino revenues from Tioga Downs could help keep the Central Foods operation open. ‘I cannot believe how little the county thinks of senior citizens in our community,’ Woodburn Court One resident Pat Donohue told legislators. Legislator Mark Whalen (D) said there was enough money to save Central Foods, but he said Republicans chose not to save the department. He added that he thought County Executive Debbie Preston (R) had been working to keep the outsourcing plan under wraps. ‘Apparently, they had been working on this for months in secret. Debbie actually told another legislator: “This is a secret. Don’t tell people,'” according to Whalen.”

22. New York: A tolls and financing task force, first proposed by Gov. Cuomo in 2012, may be in the cards again. “The task force will look at what kind of discounts local residents and commuters should receive, and whether off-peak driving should be incentivized with discounts, similar to congestion pricing. Local task force members include a Rockland County Realtor and a former Westchester County transportation commissioner.”

23. New York/New Jersey: New York and New Jersey officials announce the creation of a corporation within the Port Authority to oversee plans to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. “Financing experts say some level of public-private partnership also is possible, though that could require user fees, congestion pricing or fare increases to pay back private investors.”

24. OhioThe Vindicator applauds the U.S. Department of Education’s withholding of $71 million in federal aid to Ohio’s scandal-ridden charter schools until it receives satisfactory answers on reform. “We have long criticized the charter school industry in Ohio, which has received an unearned pass from the GOP. For years, charter school owners and operators have contributed almost exclusively to Republican candidates and have benefited greatly from that investment. Thus, we fully support the federal cl
ampdown on Ohio’s charter industry.”

25. Tennessee: Murfreesboro businessman Tom Hyde wonders about the hidden costs of Gov. Haslam’s plan to privatize public facilities. Hyde “felt the sting of Tennessee’s privatization practices two years ago when a representative of Jones Lang Lasalle notified him he would have to pay the company a commission as part of his next lease agreement.”

26. Tennessee: Certified Financial Planner Martha Moore Hobson writes an open letter to Gov. Haslam asking for answers on his plans to outsource good jobs. “I hope you will reconsider your reasons for privatizing Tennessee jobs and for rushing headlong into the process. Above all, when you think of the human toll of your outsourcing, I hope you will find something else to fix. These lives ‘ain’t broke’ until you break them.”

27. Texas: George P. Bush, the son of presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, pushes for charter schools to be given access to public bond money. Bush was the Tarrant County chairman for Uplift Education—a Dallas-based public charter network.

28. UtahSalt Lake City council member Luke Garrott targets “pay for success” social impact bonds. “Bravo, Salt Lake County, for investing in pre-K education. Boo and hiss, for defending a pseudo-scientific methodology that enables private capital to bilk public budgets and make money off public school kids.”

29. Virginia: Videos from Gov. McAuliffe’s Virginia Governor’s Transportation Conference are now online. At the conference, McAuliffe blasted poorly conceived and ill advised road privatization projects, including the now-abandoned US 460 Project, which cost taxpayers $300 million even though the project never happened; and the Midtown Tunnel Project, where Virginia taxpayers must shell out $580 million even though the state can’t collect tolls from it for 58 years. “‘Who negotiates a deal like that?’ McAuliffe asked in frustration. ‘If I can do it myself here with the commonwealth, and we can save a billion dollars, let me be crystal clear, we’re going to do it ourselves.’” [Secretary of Transportation Layne’s opening remarks]

30. WisconsinLong wait times for prison healthcare services lead to longer sentences. “Prison wait lists for programs such as those addressing substance abuse can make it difficult for offenders to get help while incarcerated. And judges will at times order longer prison sentences in hopes that offenders can access that treatment.”

31. International: Moves are afoot in Britain to streamline the accreditation process for companies looking for tax breaks for investing in “social impact bonds.” The changes are “intended to make the accreditation process easier for companies that enter into multiple spot purchase SIB contracts, by eliminating the need for separate accreditation of each contract.”

32. Think Tanks: The Center for Public Integrity unveils its State Integrity Investigation, a “data-driven analysis of each state’s laws and practices aimed at deterring corruption and promoting accountability and openness. The project was first carried out in 2011-2012 and has been completely updated with new research and reporting in 2015.” [Audio interview with Nicholas Kusnetz of CPI]

Legislative Issues:

1. National: The “public private partnership” (P3) industry is optimistic about an increased number of projects. “If it survives the conference committee, the recently-passed House transportation bill, the ‘Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015,’ would create another new entity, the National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau. The Bureau would focus on establishing and employing public-private partnerships (or other “innovative financing”) to deliver the projects themselves.  That there are two new entities focused on project delivery with express mention of private participation in the project is news.”

2. Maryland: Eight Montgomery County Council members have intervened to object to proposed changes in the public liquor distribution system. “The bills proposed by Delegate Frick and Comptroller Franchot share substantial common ground with the County Council’s approach. Our proposed legislation would also allow private wholesalers to sell directly to retailers and restaurants. However, the Frick and Franchot proposals seek a complete change without regard for the aspects of DLC operations that actually work well for consumers and taxpayers or the impact on other county priorities. The Council’s approach is limited to privatizing the aspect of its operations that DLC has not managed effectively: the distribution of special order products. And our approach protects other county priorities.”

3. MassachusettsCharter school expansion likely to move to a ballot initiative. The state senate “which overwhelmingly rejected a House-approved limited expansion of charter schools last session, has held at least three full-Senate caucuses in recent weeks to determine whether a charter bill is even worth drafting. Great Schools Massachusetts has said that it has already gathered more than the 100,000 signatures required to advance in the ballot initiative process. Signatures must be filed with local election officials for certification by Wednesday.”

4. Michigan: Lawmakers step in to demand answers on reported understaffing of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans by contractor J2S. “State Sen. Vincent Gregory sent a letter to Sen. Peter MacGregor of the Senate Oversight Committee, asking for an investigation into the ‘potential misuse of state funding and/or state governmental entities that are derelict in their duties to the taxpayers of Michigan.’” And “another lawmaker, Rep. Winnie Brinks from Grand Rapids, introduced legislation to create a new layer of oversight.” [Letter]

5. New Jersey: A legislative and legal battle has erupted over Gov. Christie’s plan to increase commercial activity in Liberty State Park. “A ‘Liberty State Park assessment report’ was developed at a cost of $120,000 by Bieder
man Redevelopment Ventures for the Christie administration and submitted to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection this spring, but the findings have not yet been released. Skeptics of the Republican governor’s plans for the park have filed suit to get the report released. ‘I am considering intervening in the case that is before the Superior Court to force the administration to release the taxpayer-funded report detailing possible revenue-generating activities in Liberty State Park,’ Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck , said in a statement to The Bond Buyer Friday.” [Sub required]

6. Pennsylvania: As Pennsylvania inches toward a resolution of its budget impasse, House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) introduces another bill to privatize liquor sales. “[Gov.] Wolf wants the starting point of liquor talks to center on his previous proposal to lease the state’s wholesale and retail liquor operations to a private manager, [Wolf press secretary] Sheridan said, calling it a ‘very significant free-market reform.’ Sheridan also said the liquor system is ‘an asset that we can make stronger. The state would still be running the system, but they would be leasing it out,’ Sheridan said. ‘That is privatization.’” The House Liquor Control Committee has scheduled a vote for this morning on the legislation.

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