- Power of Procurement Report
- Where’s the beef (and Arizona’s water)?
- Texas shrinks as a major destination for investors
First, the Good News
1) National: In the Public Interest and the Local Progress Impact Lab have a new report out, Harnessing the Power of Procurement: Issues, Considerations, and Best Practices to Advance Equity in the Contracting of Public Goods and Services. “Given the immense amount of public money transferred to the private sector through government contracting, it is crucial that local and state governments use an approach to procurement that drives toward equity,” says the report. “State and local governments that use a traditional procurement approach–typically by prioritizing cost savings over all other considerations—are potentially undermining their own goals and missing out on the opportunity to advance meaningful progressive change. Without an approach to procurement that reflects public values, government contracting can result in unchecked private control over public goods and services.”
A new law should help California communities to track what’s happening on this front as we go forward. On Thursday, Gov. Newsom (D) signed a bill into law supported by Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego) “which adds transparency in the public contracts process and removes barriers between government agencies and the public. (…) Public agencies often receive contracts from vendors that include language establishing that the contract itself, including price and terms of payment, is a confidential document [that] forces the public entity to withhold from public at large. However, access to information concerning the conduct of public agencies is a fundamental and necessary right of all Californians. SB 790clarifies current law to make abundantly clear that public contracts are a matter of public record and are to be shared with the taxpayers that fund the agencies.”
2) National: AFSCME has launched a ‘Staff the Front Lines’ bus tour aimed at solving understaffing crisis in public service. “In more than 20 cities, the tour will highlight public service job openings, encourage qualified individuals in underrepresented communities to apply.” AFSCME President Lee Saunders says, “We all deserve to live in thriving communities with clean drinking water, safe roads, strong public schools, and good health care. But right now, our nurses, school bus drivers, 911 dispatchers, corrections officers and other public service workers are on the front lines of a staffing crisis that is threatening their ability to do their jobs. AFSCME members know our communities best, and that’s why we’re launching the Staff the Front Lines bus tour. By working together, we can fix this problem.”
ITPI recently suggested the thousands of laid-off tech workers might want to look into public service roles. Most government offices don’t have the perks the tech workers once enjoyed, but they do offer purpose.
3) National/West Virginia: A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has temporarily blocked the construction of a section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline that runs through Jefferson National Forest, pending a conservation group’s petition to review the federal government’s authorization of the fossil fuel infrastructure development. “‘Time and time again, Mountain Valley has tried to force its dangerous pipeline through the Jefferson National Forest, devastating communities in its wake and racking up violations,’ Ben Tettlebaum, director and senior staff attorney at The Wilderness Society, said in a statement. ‘We’re grateful that the court has given those communities a measure of reprieve by hitting the brakes on construction across our public lands, sparing them from further irreversible damage while this important case proceeds.’” The project is a key ambition of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is considering a run for president.
4) National: Teachers are bargaining for more than just pay raises. “The strike lasted seven school days. In negotiations, teachers not only fought for higher salaries and a better schedule, but for a set of what they called ‘common good’ demands—like ensuring that all unhoused families in the district are expedited for Section 8 housing vouchers and implementing a task force on reparations. (…) These demands are part of a broader movement among unions to bargain for the common good by including provisions in teachers’ contract demands that don’t just affect them directly, but also the quality of life for their students and the city. The movement for ‘common good bargaining’ in the educational context—other industries are increasingly making common good demands too—was born during the Chicago teacher strike of 2012 and has been gaining steam ever since.”
5) National: Transportation for America says the deadline has been extended to apply to be a Community Connector and receive support in addressing harmful and divisive infrastructure. The new deadline is by Thursday, July 27th. “Thank you to everyone who has already submitted their application for the Community Connectors grant,” says Smart Growth America. “The team will begin to review and evaluate the applications in earnest next week. We encourage anyone preparing an application to submit them as soon as possible and to avoid waiting until the last minute. We’ll be in touch with applicants with any further questions or requests for more information.” SGA says “Public entities and nonprofit organizations may apply together as small teams to receive grants of up to $130,000 each for capacity building to advance these projects.”
6) California/National: “I think a lot of people are fed up with our cities and our governments really bowing to tech like this.” Birth of a movement? A grassroots movement to fight back against the ability of big tech companies to cajole or roll over public elected officials and wave through dangerous technologies is growing in a number of sectors—the entertainment industry of course but also when it comes to automated cars and trucks. “A decision of this magnitude—allowing dangerous driverless trucks on California freeways—should not be made by a bureaucratic agency like DMV that takes its cues from greedy tech corporations while disregarding the voices of truck drivers, labor and the community,’ said Jason Rabinowitz, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7.
The concerns are not only with autonomous vehicles—but with our vehicles. “All that vehicle data comes with its own privacy concerns. The Driver Privacy Act of 2015 only covers data on a car’s Event Data Recorder—not everything else they’re generating. There has been some effort to get a congressional caucus together to examine the issue, but it hasn’t gotten far, nor has the alternative of passing a comprehensive federal data privacy bill. The European Union is actively examining in-car data and plans to craft rules to cover it, but lawmakers there haven’t gotten far, either—and as the law tries to catch up, automakers are continuing to put even more new tech into our vehicles.”
7) Colorado: A major lawsuit counterattacking the legislature’s massive, bipartisan violation of Colorado’s open meetings law is underway. “Journalists and other state Capitol observers have long had some idea that this was the case. But its scope was affirmed in spectacular fashion when two elected members of the House itself packed all the lurid details into a lawsuit last week. The members, Democrats in an institution controlled by Democrats, sued their own caucus and party leaders, as well the House’s top Republican and Republican caucus, in a blockbuster attempt to address years of flagrant misbehavior.” Here are the details of the violations. Check out Terrance Carroll’s op-ed in The Denver Post on the issue.
8) Idaho: What’s that stink? Public officials are on the case. “To tackle the sewage smells that have become overbearing in places around town, the city hired Consor Engineering to track down the cause of odors in 2017. The study sought to find exactly what was causing the smell and why it was so strong in some neighborhoods and not others. This year, new information and a range of new tools and tricks are available in the fight against odors and the city is hopeful that the solution is near.”
9) Illinois: The Carbondale City Council has adopted some new ordinances on medical care and human rights.
“Chapter 18 of Title One says: ‘It is the policy of the City of Carbondale to assure that all persons within its jurisdiction shall have equal access to public services and shall be protected in the enjoyment of civil rights, and to promote mutual understanding and respect among all who live and work within this city.’ It continues in saying that discrimination, prejudice, intolerance, bigotry and sexual harassment threaten the rights and privileges of city residents and threaten a free and democratic society.”
“Title 22 is the city’s declaration that all people are born with inalienable freedoms and that Carbondale will actively protect those freedoms both for residents and people who visit the city. It also says it is the policy of the city to assure all persons within its jurisdiction have equal access to public services and be protected in the enjoyment of civil rights. Chapter 22 goes on to specify certain human rights, such as bodily autonomy, protecting medical information, and religious freedom.”
10) International: In a major victory for public sector unions, the British High Court has ruled unconstitutional a move by Conservative ministers “allowing employers to replace striking staff with temporary workers. (…) The legislation made it easier for employment agencies to supply businesses and public sector organisations with staff to cover for strikers on a temporary basis, a practice that for decades had been a criminal offence. Unions representing workers including teachers, train drivers and health staff brought a judicial review. Their legal case rested on two grounds: firstly, that ministers had failed to comply with a statutory duty to consult before introducing the legislation, and secondly that the rules violated a right to strike enshrined by human rights law. (…) Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, which receives large donations from the big unions, has promised to reverse the reforms if he becomes prime minister after next year’s general election.” [Sub required]
11) International: Hospital workers have rallied across Toronto against the Ford government’s privatization scheme. “The unionized healthcare workers, represented by the Ontario Nurses’ Association, CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, and Unifor, unveiled a large petition signed by over 4,000 hospital staff – a majority of healthcare workers from the three hospitals. The petition called for a firm commitment from Unity Health Toronto Chief Executive Officer Dr. Tim Ruttledge to take a stand against Bill 60, the recently-passed Conservative legislation to contract out surgeries and diagnostic procedures to private clinics.”
12) National: Trump says parents should elect principals. What would that look like? Libby Stanford explains in Education Week. “‘It would impair their ability to be an effective principal because now you’re listening to some group of individuals in a community who have enough votes to vote you in or out,” [Edward Fuller, an education policy professor at Penn State University] said. “If you want to be principal, you have to do what they want you to do whether it’s good for kids or not.” (…) While it will be nearly impossible for Trump to make elected principals a reality, the proposal itself and the rhetoric accompanying it have an impact on educators, Fuller said. “What he’s communicating is principals aren’t doing their jobs, schools aren’t doing their jobs, and you have people on both sides of the aisle saying that,” Fuller said. ‘That’s one of the reasons we have a shortage of teachers and principals now, because of the constant attacks on educators.’” [Sub required]
13) National: Private equity is planning to invest billions in electrified, privatized school buses, The Wall Street Journalreports. “First Student, a school bus operator that the private-equity firm bought two years ago, plans to put 30,000 electric buses on the road by 2035. (…) The fate of many private-equity investments in the shift to clean energy likely will derive from the rate of adoption of new technologies, such as electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel and carbon capture, according to energy industry consultants. At EQT, executives expect federal incentives, state mandates and First Student’s own efforts to help accelerate electric bus adoption, according to Crosby Cook, an EQT partner who focuses on infrastructure and related transactions.”
14) Idaho: State Rep. Steven Berch (D) lays out the major challenges Idaho’s public school system faces from the threat of privatization. “The 2023 bill tried to hit a home run and failed. However, the lobbyists behind privatizing public education will be back, fronted by their legislative allies. Expect to see legislation next year that allows public tax dollars to pay for private and religious school tuition in limited amounts and isolated situations. This is fool’s gold—there is no room for compromise. If the legislature allows just a small amount of public tax dollars to be spent on tuition for any private school, your tax dollars must be made available to all types of private schools and religious schools. Once one bill passes, the flood gates open up to flow your public education dollars to the bottom line profits of private sector businesses.”
15) Missouri: Writing in the Missouri Independent, Annelise Hanshaw shines a light on the activities of the Herzog Foundation, which has been described as the “epicenter of the school-choice movement.” Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, a Clay County Democrat who is running for a seat in the Missouri Senate, says “Herzog and other groups like Herzog have made it their goal to funnel money from taxpayers to private institutions. We’re going to continue to see more legislation pushed by groups like Herzog to dismantle public schools as we know them.”
16) New York: The Wall Street Journal is waxing hysterical about a lawsuit that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has brought to block the non-union charter school chain Success Academy from co-locating in a union school. [Sub required]. As usual, the Journal asserts that the goal of the $51 billion charter school industry is to serve poor kids. “In its lawsuit, the UFT cited the class-size law to try to invalidate the co-location of two Success Academy charter schools at public school buildings in Queens and Brooklyn,” the New York Post reported. “The 52-page legal challenge contends that the Department of Education failed to consider the impact of the state’s new law capping class sizes when approving the charters — and that the regulations will require more space in DOE schools, meaning the charters would not fit.”
17) New York: Are school districts being asked to buy a pig in a poke as they transition to electric buses? Is it more cost efficient to keep it public or deal with a private operator? Assistant Superintendent for Business Monica LaClair “said she doesn’t feel comfortable giving the main district transportation provider First Student or any other vendor a purchase order for 21 electric buses if she doesn’t know what the district’s out-of-pocket cost is going to be. Purchase orders need to go out in a month.”
18) North Carolina: A Republican charter school bill has been sent to Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. The charter school bill allows counties to spend tax dollars on charter school construction projects. “HB 219 will likely become law because Republicans have votes to override the governor’s vetoes. The same is true of another pivotal charter school bill on the governor’s desk. House Bill 618 creates a Charter School Review Board to take over many of the charter school oversight responsibilities currently held by the State Board of Education. The review board would approve, terminate and renew charters.”
19) Pennsylvania: The state budget is in turmoil over school voucher and equity funding issues. “The state government is approaching a second week without full spending authority, with the final OK on a $45 billion spending plan stymied over a dispute about creating a $100 million program to allocate state subsidies for students in the lowest performing districts to attend private or religious schools. Complicating matters is the judge’s ruling, which ordered the Legislature and governor to fix the system but with no guidance about how—or how quickly—it should be done. The budget still in limbo includes about $800 million for public education, significantly less than what Democrats wanted. The state’s poorest districts will split $100 million through a program designed to help them close some of the gap between them and more affluent districts.”
20) National/Arizona: Privatizing water during an historic drought? The Washington Post has a front page, nearly 5,000 word article on how Arizona’s water has been privatized to Saudi interests and is being sucked out of the public ground to the detriment of local folks. This despite a major drought and heat wave. The water is being used for alfalfa to feed the Saudis’ cattle. “A Post investigation—based on government documents and interviews with public officials, ranchers in the valley, farmworkers, and townspeople who live near the alfalfa fields—found that Arizona’s lax regulatory environment and sophisticated lobbying by the Saudi-owned company allowed a scarce American resource to flow unchecked to a foreign corporation. To advance its interests before the state, Fondomonte hired an influential Republican lawyer as well as a former member of Congress. And it sought to win over its rural neighbors, providing a high school with donations that included Fondomonte-sponsored sports bags and face masks emblazoned with the company logo to protect students from Covid…”
“Last month, the new governor, Democrat Katie Hobbs, unveiled a long-awaited study showing that groundwater in parts of the Phoenix area was insufficient to meet projected demand over the next century. Her administration also recently sought details about water use on state-owned land. Only after the state threatened to cancel Fondomonte’s leases last month did the company disclose how much it pumps annually in the Butler Valley, according to communications released as part of a public-records request. Its consumption is equivalent to that of a city of more than 50,000 people, experts said. The governor’s aides are now preparing plans not to renew Fondomonte’s leases in the Butler Valley when they expire next year, according to a staff recommendation obtained by The Post.”
21) Maryland: The Purple Line, the ‘public-private partnership’ project repeated train wreck, faces yet another disastrous construction delay and massive cost overruns. “The line’s opening, last planned for the fall of 2026, was already more than four years behind schedule. Due to the delay, the project will now cost an additional $148 million. It was originally budgeted at $5.3 billion and was already $3.8 billion over budget.” Now the target date is 2027. So the privatization industry’s claim to efficient project management has taken another hit.
MoCo360 (formerly Bethesda Magazine), reports that “Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich wrote in a statement Friday evening that the delay was ‘not good news,’ but also not surprising to him. ‘This public private partnership deal has been a ‘poster child’ for how not to do a major transportation project,’ Elrich wrote. ‘From the beginning of this process, I have been clear about the perils of engaging in a poorly conceived and constructed public private partnership on the Purple Line. Taxpayers and transit riders will continue to pay for the mismanagement of the Hogan Administration. We deserved better.’”
22) New York: How messed up are New York City’s investment and human priorities for housing? Three stories illustrate just how much. First, after decades of neglect of maintenance and construction of the public housing stock, it is now estimated that the amount of money needed to put them right is $80 billion, double what it was just a few years ago. Yet even in their desperation, public housing tenants are having to fight off a plan to demolish their buildings and put them under private ownership. To top it off, a luxury tower built to house the elite sits half empty. “A four-bedroom apartment recently traded for $8.5 million, about 46% less than its projected asking price of $15.725 million, records show,” TheWall Street Journal reports. [Sub required].
- In recent years, homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
- In December 2022, there were 68,884 homeless people, including 21,805 homeless children, sleeping each night in New York City’s main municipal shelter system. A near-record 22,720 single adults slept in shelters each night in December 2022.
- Over the course of City Fiscal Year 2022, 102,656 different homeless adults and children slept in the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelter system. This includes 29,653 homeless children.
23) New York: The City of Rochester is privatizing four of its parking garages. “Deputy Mayor Patrick Cunningham said the buyers were thoroughly vetted prior to approval by the city administration to ensure they follow good business practices. He said after June 2025, the city will have no real say in how the garages are operated. ‘There’s no contingency saying the sale is invalid if they don’t live up to standards,’ Cunningham said during a Council committee hearing Wednesday. ‘We have ways to put pressure on entities to live up to standards, and I’ll tell you, we did significant background checks on these companies.’” Really?
24) Pennsylvania: In May, Towamencin residents passed a law, the Home Rule Charter, that forbids the privatization of their sewer system. But township officials intend to proceed with a sale. So now residents are suing. “The plaintiffs, Kofi Osei and Jenn Foster, lead organizers with Towamencin Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts (NOPE), have pushed against the sale since 2021, and helped write a Home Rule Charter. The new law forbids the sale of the township’s wastewater, stormwater, and water to private entities. Osei and Foster announced in the NOPE Facebook page Wednesday night: ‘We have urged both our Board of Supervisors and PA American to invoke the termination language in the Asset Purchase Agreement to no avail. We believe that the decision to continue with the regulatory process is in direct violation of the law.’”
25) Texas: The Lone Star state, which loves to brag about its commitment to privatization and letting “the market” set priorities for everything, has fallen off its perch as a top investment destination, according to CNBC. “For all of Texas’ strengths, serious problems are worsening in other areas measured by the CNBC study. That includes Infrastructure, the second-most important category under this year’s methodology. Texas falls to No. 24 in the category this year, from No. 15 in 2022. The massive power outages in 2021 that left millions of Texans without electricity for days in subfreezing temperatures and killed more than 200 people also exposed serious weaknesses in the state’s power grid. At a time when advanced manufacturing companies are prioritizing reliable power, Texans are enduring nearly 20 hours without electricity per year. That is the third-worst in the nation, according to Energy Department data.”
There’s more, CNBC reports:
- The state’s water utilities need more than $61 billion in repairs over the next 20 years, according to the EPA.
- Texas drops to No. 35 for Education, from No. 21 in 2022. Per-pupil spending is among the nation’s lowest, according to the National Education Association.
- While Texas often touts savings, including no state income or corporate tax, it is far from the least expensive place to live, or do business in.
- Texas’ biggest weakness in 2023 is also its most controversial. The state finishes dead last in Life, Health & Inclusion, dropping from No. 49 last year.
26) Texas: The Austin City Council is about to run into a tough controversy next month over plans for Zilker Park. “Save Zilker Park signs have been popping up all over Austin. ‘No development. No Monetization. No construction. No privatization. No non-profit. No garages. No Greed,’ some of the signs read—a growing response to the discussions of a Zilker Park and Barton Springs vision plan that is set to hit the City Council docket in late August. The vision plan sparked outrage among many community members regarding some of the elements included in what could be a $200 million-plus project, many fearing the city wants to ‘convert Zilker Park into an outdoor entertainment district,’ Bill Bunch, executive director of Save Our Springs Alliance, told the American-Statesman.” [Sub required]
27) International/Revolving Door News: You can’t make it up. The new interim joint chief executive of Thames Water, which is in crisis in part because of lax and incompetent regulation, was the chief executive of that regulator, Ofwat.
28) National: Less than a year ago, Maximus was awarded a $6.6 billion contract for Contact Center Operations by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. But now the $5.7 billion market cap company is the subject of withering criticism for profiteering off the system. “This Little-Known Corporation Is Making a Fortune Kicking People Off Medicaid,” Matthew Cunningham-Cook reports in Jacobin and Lever News. “The company has accordingly boosted its earnings estimate by $100 million. Maximus’s share price is closing on its all-time high, up nearly 50 percent since October. Caswell earned $6.3 million in 2022. Outsourcing Medicaid eligibility reviews to Maximus has major implications beyond the company’s expanding bottom line. It also removes essential government services from the realm of public accountability, while draining resources from governments.”
According to KFF, nearly 2 million Medicaid enrollees have been disenrolled as of July 12, 2023. The disenrollment rate in Idaho is 76%. While Maximus is pushing people out of Medicaid, over the past three years its executives earned $41,328,600 according to its SEC filings (p. 52, total of column on the extreme right).
29) National: Can public power advance economic justice? Yes, says Steve Dubb, writing in Nonprofit Quarterly, but it’s looking complicated. “Still, fears that a corporate free-for-all might result—not just due to the climate bill but also boosted by existing state and local tax incentives—are not unfounded. In short, to restore public power and craft an industrial policy that truly fosters economic democracy, enormous challenges lie ahead.”
30) National: More privatization of the Veterans Administration is on the way, Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early report in The American Prospect. “Bipartisan fans of that privatization scheme are now trying to amend the MISSION Act of 2018, which opened the floodgates for outsourcing, in ways that would ensure they will never be closed. Leading the charge are right-wing Republicans, an embattled Democrat seeking re-election from Montana, and a recently rebranded “independent” from Arizona who has reeled in millions of dollars from Big Pharma and other health care industry donors.”
31) Arizona: Arizona teamsters are ready to strike for their first contract with Republic Services, the trash outsourcing company. “The 116 waste workers seek to address years of concerns regarding pay, health care, safety, working conditions, and lack of respect. The company continues to stall in negotiations and has committed several unfair labor practice (ULP) charges during the workers’ organizing and bargaining efforts. ‘Republic Services does not value us as workers and is continuously violating federal law,’ said Danny Domingez, a five-year driver at Republic Services serving on the worker-led bargaining committee. ‘All we want is a fair contract.’”
32) Georgia: The Teamsters have authorized a strike at Republic Services in Metro Atlanta. “‘This company needs to stop mistreating workers and taking us for granted. We worked nonstop during the entire pandemic and provide an essential service,’ said Jeff Rolland, a 37-year driver at Republic Services. ‘We deserve more from this company and are prepared to hit the streets if we have to.’ If workers strike, it will not be the first time Republic Services workers have walked the picket line in Georgia. In 2013 and 2018, workers at hauling yard in McDonough and Cumming went on strike to protest violations of federal labor laws by the company.”
33) International: Australia has landed in a massive scandal over a flawed program to reclaim benefits supposedly overpaid to the needy. Binoy Kampmark has an overview of Robodebt. “The results were disastrous for the victims in receipt of crude, harrying debt notices. The scheme induced despair and mental ruin. It led to various instances of suicide. It saw a concerted government assault on the poor and vulnerable.”
34) National: Redlining by algorithm. There are nearly 100 ongoing civil rights & consumer lawsuits against firms that use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict if someone is a ‘rental risk.’ “Another pending federal lawsuit against SafeRent claims that the company is discriminating against Black and Hispanic rental applicants who use federally funded housing vouchers. SafeRent’s algorithm is proprietary, but the company says that it relies on factors including bankruptcy records, eviction histories, and credit scores. The complaint notes that about 45 percent of Black consumers and 32 percent of Hispanic consumers have subprime credit scores, compared to 18 percent of white consumers.”
35) National: Guess what? “Tax filing websites have been secretly sending your financial information to Facebook and Google when you file your taxes online. The data includes income, filing status, refund amount, and the names of your kids. This should be a national scandal,” says Public Citizen. The Markup reports that “the government enforcement agencies the letter was sent to did not respond to a request for comment, except the FTC, which declined to comment. The investigation was led by Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and signed on to by Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, as well as California representative Katie Porter. All are Democrats except Sanders, who is an independent.”
36) International/National: Meanwhile, as the debate over public banking goes on, the private banks have had one of their most profitable quarters ever by charging more for loans. “Three of the largest U.S. banks reported a surge in profits from charging more for loans, as the Federal Reserve’s series of interest rate rises fattened their bottom lines. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo collectively earned $49bn in net interest income in the second quarter, the difference between what the banks pay for deposits and earn from loans and other assets,” The Financial Times reports. [Sub required]