Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and communities nationwide. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
This week’s highlights
- The privatization industry and its local allies are launching a renewed effort to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
- The Partnership for Working Families has issued a statement on George Floyd’s killing and what we must do now.
- Two Kentucky mayors and a Kentucky front-line worker are sounding the alarm for urgent federal relief for states, cities and towns.
Governing for the Common Good
1) National: The Partnership for Working Families has issued a statement on George Floyd’s killing and what we must do now:
“We share the grief and utter outrage of people everywhere at the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and we stand in solidarity with the communities in Minnesota and around the country that are demanding justice in his name.
“Nearly six years after Eric Garner’s death in New York, five years after Sandra Bland’s death in Texas—and four years after Philando Castile’s in Minnesota—George Floyd’s murder reaffirms that Black people will never be safe under a police system that was born out of white supremacist desires to preserve slavery.
“This gut-wrenching violence that we witnessed against George Floyd, following soon after the horrific murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, is too much for many to take. We are angered, saddened, frustrated, confused. As organizers and leaders, we fight for survival and dignity every day, and times like this can be overwhelming and heart wrenching. It also creates urgency. We cannot and will not back down now. We will show unity and channel our anger into fighting for permanent change. We will not rest until Black people are free, free to live, move, and just be, without fear. We commit our hands, heart and spirit to ending white supremacy.
“As ISAIAH MN wrote, ‘Our city is hurting right now. But the cycle of police violence from the MPD is not inevitable. Together, we can change it. We get to imagine and build what public safety looks like. We get to have a city where we are all safe whether we’re Black, white, or brown. This is our right and our shared responsibility. We get to create the future we want for our communities together.’ For updates from the ground, please follow our Minnesota affiliate, ISAIAH ”
2) National: Two Kentucky mayors and a Kentucky front-line worker “sounded the alarm Thursday for urgent federal relief for states, cities and towns, joining a bipartisan chorus seeking such assistance to avert an economic disaster for our nation,” AFSCME reports. “Participating in a press call were Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Greenville Mayor Jan Yonts, as well as David Shockley, a parks laborer from Paducah. (…) ‘The bottom line is without additional revenues we’ll have to cut every department and service, including public safety. We’re looking to lay off 600 metro employees, including first responders and health care employees,’ Fischer said. ‘We need the U.S. Senate to take up this cause as well. The longer we delay, the deeper a hole we will dig.’”
3) National: State and local officials around the country are protecting the vote by making mail-in ballots easier to obtain and cast. One example is Pennsylvania. “In the three days leading up to Election Day, the Committee of Seventy’s mobile Voteswagon will be making stops throughout the city to collect ballots. The city is also opening 10 sites—in addition to its election office—where voters can drop off ballots between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Election Day. Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and Chester counties are also providing drop-off locations in addition to their main election offices.”
4) National: In an important victory for organized workers, beginning today some Social Security Administration employees will be allowed to perform their duties outside normal business hours “in an effort to help employees juggle work and family obligations. (…) The move comes after two months of pressure by federal employee unions, who have urged the agency to provide a ‘maxiflex’ telework schedule so that workers with dependent care obligations can perform their duties without burning through their annual leave. As previously reported by Government Executive, the agency’s restrictive telework and leave policies have been a source of deep frustration for many workers.”
5) National: In an effort to save small restaurants, some cities are placing a commission cap on food delivery apps. “The commission that these apps take from restaurants varies, but can range as high as 20% to 40% of the order total. That type of fee may have been more manageable for restaurants that only made a small percentage of their revenue from app services before the pandemic. But as takeout and delivery have become the only option in most places, restaurants say the hefty commissions are killing their businesses. In response, lawmakers in large cities are setting commission caps on app-based takeout and delivery services to ensure that more money spent at local restaurants stays with the business.”
6) Arizona: Expect More Arizona is urging people to contact their representatives to take action on the crisis in education funding. “While much-needed federal relief funds address critical needs in the short term, those funds must not be used to supplant state education funding. Our public education systems will require meaningful and reliable resources to sufficiently address the needs of our students, and to tackle the achievement gap that has been exacerbated and made more visible due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
7) Colorado: Advocacy groups are pushing lawmakers to impose a tax hike on higher earners to help with the state’s budget shortfall. “To gain approval, the income tax proposal the groups are floating would require support from at least two-thirds of both chambers of the legislature. Democrats control both chambers, but are shy of a two-thirds majority in the House and well short in the Senate. Colorado is unusual in that it has what’s known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or “TABOR,” which requires the state to seek approval from voters before raising tax rates.”
8) Illinois: Chicago is expanding its virus tracking workforce in distressed neighborhoods. “It’s among the latest efforts by municipal and state governments to expand so-called contact tracing initiatives. The programs are seen as crucial for preventing flare ups of the highly contagious virus as the nation looks to further reopen the economy in the coming weeks.”
9) New York: Victims of domestic and gender-based violence in New York City can now receive stipends to help them move or pay for other expenses. “The financial relief program, a partnership between the mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence and nonprofit service provider Sanctuary for Families, will offer “microgrants” to survivors, who during the coronavirus pandemic might particularly feel they are unable to leave abusive situations. Values will be based on need, according to the mayor’s office.”
10) Texas: The state attorney general has brokered a deal with counties on how to share a national payout of the opioid settlement. “Lawyers involved in the negotiation said the agreement could be a model for other states looking to work out deals to disperse money meant to help governments respond to the ongoing opioid crisis before a national settlement is finalized.”
11) National: President Trump has vetoed a bipartisan resolution to overturn a policy that makes it tougher for students who say they were defrauded by colleges to have their federal education loans canceled. “‘President Trump’s veto … was a victory for DeVos and the fraud merchants at the for-profit colleges. My question to the President: in four days did you forget those flag-waving Memorial Day speeches as you vetoed a bill the veterans were begging for?’ said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who introduced the resolution in the Senate.” The Washington Post reports that “The closure of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, for-profit chains felled by charges of fraud and predatory lending, resulted in a deluge of claims at the Education Department. Claims continue to mount as other for-profit colleges, including Argosy University and the Art Institutes, have folded. The Education Department has received more than 300,000 claims for debt relief to date.”
12) National: This Wednesday at 7:30 Eastern Diane Ravitch will sit down for a video conference with Jitu Brown to discuss race, equity and civil rights. Register here.
13) Missouri: The Missouri Charter Public School Commission has declined to renew the Carondelet Leadership Academy’s five-year contract because of poor academic performance, leading students and parents to scramble for new school places. “Of the 387 students at Carondelet, 340 have not enrolled in new schools, including 17 of 28 eighth graders moving on to high school. The leaders of St. Louis Public Schools and KIPP charter schools have said they have space and transportation available for the children, [Robbyn Wahby, the charter school commission’s executive director] said. The state education department appreciates the charter commission’s standards for its schools, spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said. ‘While closing a school is never easy, our department firmly believes all students deserve access to a high-quality education,’ McGowin said. ‘We are confident schools in the region will do all they can to welcome Carondelet families in the coming months.’”
14) California: Thomas Ultican reports that critics of efforts by billionaires to take over the Oakland schools are “hopping mad” about collaboration between the school board and the privatizers. “This month, a survey was launched in Oakland, California with the claim ‘This survey is a primary partnership between OUSD and GO Public Schools Oakland.’ Apparently some Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) board members were stunned by the news and were not happy about raising the stature of a billionaire financed organization dedicated to privatizing public schools. It seems the survey resulted from a secret negotiation between OUSD administrators, GO and possibly some OUSD board members.”
15) District of Columbia: Writer, teacher and activist Rachel Levy reports that “Democrats for Education Reform is sending these mailers out in a DC Council election, against the Ward 4 pro public education and pro policing reform candidate. I try to be measured on here but this is DISGUSTING. Shame on you, DFER.”
16) North Carolina: Kris Nordstrom, a senior policy analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education & Law Project, says charter school advocates need to get their facts straight; stop undermining traditional public education. “North Carolina charter advocates continually complain of an “unfair” funding system despite regularly outspending comparable traditional public schools. An analysis of expenditure data from the ’18-19 school year indicates that charter schools maintain a small, $83 per-student local funding advantage over similar public schools. Charter advocates seeking greater investment in charter students should stop trying to take money from the less-advantaged traditional sector and instead work together to ensure state leaders deliver adequate funding for all students.”
17) Tennessee: The Metro Nashville Public Schools board has denied five charter school applications as the school district braces for the possibility of deep budget cuts and little new money for next year. “In addition to pointing to the need for fiscal belt-tightening, board members raised concerns that none of the applications before them fully met the district’s expectations for charter schools. ‘Our budgetary future is uncertain,’ said Amy Frogge, the board’s vice chair and a longtime charter school critic. ‘We have to prioritize where those funds go. We can chose to open charter seats or we can chose to pay our teachers and our staff members and really that’s what it comes down to.’ The mayor of Nashville has asked the board to find $100 million in budget cuts.”
18) Texas: State Rep. Terry Canales (D) “wants more transparency at Texas charter schools and says he will introduce legislation next session to demand it,” The Rio Grande Guardian reports. “IDEA has come in for criticism for leasing and operating a private jet for several million dollars. However, this was not at taxpayer expense. The charter also spent $400,000 on tickets and box seats at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Again, this was not at taxpayer expense. Following the criticism, co-founder and CEO Tom Torkelson resigned. Under a transition package Torkelson will receive $900,000 from his former employers, The Rivard Report reported Saturday. Canales is not pleased about this remuneration. ‘This nonsense absolutely underscores the problem. In the last year, we have heard about private jets, hundreds of thousands on Spurs tickets, and now, million-dollar Wall Street executive severance packages for administrators,’ Canales wrote.”
19) National: An extensive campaign of public asset stripping by the privatization industry and its financial backers is on the cards. Writing in Truthout, In the Public Interest’s Communications Director Jeremy Mohler, who previously managed federal contracting proposal efforts at multiple small businesses, says COVID-related fiscal issues could become a new excuse to privatize drinking water.
Mohler looks at how Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland promises a “path to financial stability” through a fire sale of the town’s water assets. “That ‘path to financial stability’ is to hand over the Octoraro Reservoir and the surrounding 1,358 acres of public land to a private corporation. Water bills would almost certainly go up, because, on average, private water utilities charge 59 percent more than public utilities. The system’s public workers would be outsourced (and almost certainly paid less). And all that land could be fenced off from public use. For what? Somewhere around $200 million. A nice chunk of change, given Chester’s longtime budget issues. But add up the headaches and rate increases that often come with privatization, plus the loss of public control and land access, and it wouldn’t be worth it.”
20) National: For an industry-side flavor of “public-private partnerships” and the COVID-19 local government cash crisis, check out this recent episode of Acuris’ Debtwire Radio podcast. Also, in this month’s issue of the relaunched Public Works Financing, the industry’s publication of record, new Editor Michael Bennon offers a thoughtful overview of the current state of the P3 sector’s problems. His key concern: the fact that in the United States “public-private partnership” dealmaking or even settled deals often get cancelled midstream, costing bidders and contractors money. “It is increasingly safe to say that the United States has emerged as the global leader in this regard,” says Bennon. Over the last 15 years or so, “at least a dozen road projects or leases have been cancelled, ranging from leases such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike back in 2008 to [availability payment] projects like Project Neon in Nevada and the Knik Arm Bridge in Alaska, both cancelled in 2014.” Pointing to the Indianapolis justice complex, he seems to suggest that a step-by-step approach to public-private deals, based on design-build procurements, stands a better chance of avoiding messy cancellations.
In the same issue, D.J. Gribbin, the Trump’s administration’s former Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure (now at Madrus LLC), zeroes in on the issue of incentives in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. “One potential structural problem that could jeopardize P3s’ effectiveness (and image),” Gribbin writes, “is the potential conflict of interest that can arise when a project developer holds significant ownership in both the concessionaire and design‐build joint venture (DBJV) in long‐term concession projects. This piece will provide a brief examination of how such an arrangement can undermine the incentive structure fundamental to the success P3s, especially during periods of financial strain.” [Public Works Financing, May 2020; sub required].
21) Missouri: As expected, the privatization industry and its local allies are launching a renewed effort to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The last effort, backed by billionaire Rex Sinquefield, went nowhere after a heroic effort by electeds, truth telling journalists, and public interest advocates. Some clues as to who is behind what locals are calling “Rex Inc’s Airport Privatization Scam II” are laid out in this thread by @tweets_native.
The linchpin of the new effort is a strategy to make the privatization effort look democratic and inclusive while cutting out the elected city council from making the privatization decision or exercising oversight of the lease itself. It looks like public property is on the menu, but the public seems see right through the scam. See @stl7thward’s informal online poll.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that “Pruitt, with the [city] NAACP, and Stephanie Fleming, a Carpenters spokeswoman, both said they expected political megadonor Rex Sinquefield or organizations associated with him to get involved financially in the petition drive and potential election effort but had received no commitments so far.” Pressure is now mounting on the mayor to withdraw the city’s application to the FAA to lease the airport under a pilot program. Stay tuned.
As usual, the privatization industry’s think tanks have launched what looks like a coordinated flanking effort to spin the airport privatization project as the salvation of a hard pressed city. They did this after the 2008 financial crash with the motto “desperate government is our best customer.” This time around, the Reason Foundation’s Bob Poole, who has been in the airport privatization game for decades despite the industry’s repeated failures (in St. Louis, Westchester NY and twice in Chicago) to convince the public of its merit, is at it again with an opinion piece in the relaunched Public Works Financing. Noting optimistically that the coronavirus economic collapse will “decimate the finances of state and local governments” and produce a public pensions payment crisis, Poole says the privatizers should move in for the kill to asset strip the airport from the St. Louis public.
And not only St. Louis. Poole promises that his Koch-funded think tank will shortly be releasing a paper with a menu listing the prices of 30 public airports for the delectation of asset strippers and desperate governments. [Public Works Financing, May 2020; sub required]. Get ready for a national battle to keep these vital public assets public.
22) Missouri: Voters in Bolivar will decide tomorrow whether to privatize the city’s water and wastewater treatment systems to Liberty Utilities, the regulated utility business of parent company Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. Missouri does not have “no excuse” absentee voting.
23) Think Tanks: Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth United States have released a report on how public structures continue to finance the climate crisis. The authors write, “The new report looks at the trends in G20 countries’ public finance for energy from 2016 to 2018—it’s an update of previous research that looked at the same thing for 2013 to 2015. The headline finding is that from 2016 to 2018 G20 countries provided an average of USD 77 billion per year in public finance for fossil fuels. In 2013 to 2015, after our first report, this number was….USD 76 billion per year. G20 public finance for renewable energy also did not shift the way we need it to: from 2013 to 2015, it was USD 21 billion per year, and it rose to a still-paltry USD 24 billion per year for 2016 to 2018.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
24) National: The Appeal has a rundown of the COVID-19 epidemic in jails and prisons, public and private, across the country. “Florida’s Blackwater Correctional Facility, operated by private prison company GEO Group, currently has more than 1,000 prisoners in medical quarantine. South Bay Correctional Facility, also operated by Geo Group, has placed 1,153 prisoners in quarantine. Six people incarcerated at Blackwater have died and 36 South Bay staff have contracted the virus. In a story published earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times noted that Blackwater has long been subject to outside scrutiny and ‘fell under a harsh spotlight when it was revealed that all five of the first—and at the time only Florida inmates to succumb to COVID-19 — were incarcerated there.’”
But check this out. NorthEscambia.com reports that in late March, only one staff member at Century Correctional Instituti on in Escambia tested positive for COVID-19. “There have been no other confirmed cases since that time. Only three inmates have been tested; all were negative.” Quite a difference from the GEO facility.
25) National: A federal judge has given ICE until tomorrow to explain why it cannot test detainees for COVID-19. “In his order, Robart noted that the [Northwest Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center] and its private-contractor operator, The GEO Group, have tested 16 of 645 detainees and 15 staff at the SeaTac facility since the coronavirus emerged in the U.S. more than five months ago. ICE maintains there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, at the center.”
26) National: The GEO Group plunged a significant 5.42% on Thursday.
27) National: GEO Group is suing Netflix for trademark misuse in its original series “Messiah.” The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports “the suit says the series ‘falsely accuses GEO of detaining immigrants in overcrowded overheated rooms with chain-link fences and depriving them of beds, bedding, sunshine, recreation and educational opportunities.’ It goes on to say that ‘Unlike in Messiah, GEO does not house people in overcrowded rooms with chain-link fences at its Facilities, but provides beds, bedding, air conditioning, indoor and outdoor recreational spaces, soccer fields, classrooms, libraries and other amenities that rebut Messiah’s defamatory falsehoods.’” The news site says “unannounced inspections of three GEO-operated detention centers by Homeland Security officials between May and November 2018 found numerous examples of mistreatment, including detainees being restrained without justification, spoiled food, moldy bathrooms and limited recreational opportunities. Some were segregated in violation of their rights and prohibited from visits with family members. When the report was released in June 2019, the company said they had already been ‘swiftly corrected.’” Netflix had not responded yet to a request for comment.
28) National/Missouri: St. Louis Post-Dispatch metro columnist Tony Messenger has won a Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts from the American Bar Association for his coverage of debtors prisons in Missouri. “Messenger’s columns focused on the jailing of people who struggled to pay ‘board bills’ that stemmed from their time behind bars. The bills charge for the cost of imprisonment and can total thousands of dollars.”
29) National/Texas: Citing the coronavirus outbreak, Doctors for America protested Friday at facilities in Conroe and near San Antonio, demanding the release of non-violent immigrants. “The GEO Group, the largest private administrator of detention and correctional facilities in the U.S., operates the Corley site for ICE and the Marshals Service. They didn’t provide requested information about Garza-Salazar’s death. Members of Garza-Salazar’s family visited Corley on Friday to collect his personal belongings while the protest was taking place. “My mother was very sad seeing that place again while my father is not with us anymore,” said his daughter, Vanessa Garza-Salazar.”
30) Louisiana: Sanitation workers striking for personal protection equipment have been fired and replaced by prison labor from a nearby lockup. Professor Talitha LeFlouria, author of Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South, spoke with The Real News Network about the issue. [Audio, about 18 minutes]. Prof. LeFlouria: “And so rather than improve working conditions for free laborers, oftentimes, starting actually after emancipation with the inception of a system known as convict leasing, which I’ll discuss in a moment, free laborers were fired all the time and replaced with prison workers. And this practice, again, of exploiting prison labor for profit has its origins in a system known as convict leasing, which developed after emancipation in the Southern States.”
31) National: U.S. Postal Service stakeholders and employees “are escalating their calls for financial assistance for the mailing agency as it reports new budget shortfalls amid the novel coronavirus pandemic,” Government Executive reports. “USPS lost $1.2 billion in April, according to preliminary financial data, compared to just $338 million in the same period in 2019. Factoring out fluctuations in interest on workers’ compensation costs, the gap was $470 million. Volume for regular, first class mail, the Postal Service’s most profitable offering, fell by 9% year-over-year, while marketing mail dropped by 45%. (…)
“Postal union leaders on Wednesday cautioned the package uptick was temporary, predicting the volume increase would subside as retail stores reopen across the country. They vowed to unleash lobbying efforts on lawmakers to ensure Congress includes a cash injection for the Postal Service in its next round of stimulus payments. “Not more debt, not more loans,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union. “Appropriated relief.” National Association of Letter Carriers Executive Vice President Brian Renfroe said his organization has launched television and digital advertising to “mobilize voters” to pressure lawmakers into assisting the Postal Service. The union officials said they would focus their efforts on Republican senators who represent rural states, as well as on House Democrats to ensure they “do not cave” this time around. The Democrats had pushed for $25 billion for USPS in the last stimulus package, but backed down to demands from the White House.”
31) International: Writing in the Guardian, Felicity Lawrence, Juliette Garside, David Pegg, David Conn, Severin Carrell and Harry Davies spell out how a decade of privatization and cuts exposed England to coronavirus. “The government’s reliance on private contractors during the public health emergency comes after a decade of public sector reorganisation, marketisation and deep cuts to services and local government in England. The Guardian has interviewed dozens of public health directors, politicians, experts in infectious disease control, government scientific and political advisers, NHS leaders and emergency planners about the years leading up to the pandemic. They described how an infrastructure that was once in place to respond to public health crises was fractured, and in some places demolished, by policies introduced by recent Conservative governments, with some changes going as far back as Labour’s years in power.”
32) Think Tanks: With state and local-oriented media facing a harsh crisis from declining ad and subscriber revenues during the COVID-19 crisis, will the right wing step in to monopolize statehouse and city hall coverage? A past article from governing is food for thought.
Photo by Matthew Hurst.