Your weekly rundown of news and analysis about the privatization of education, water, and other public goods—and about the people fighting back. Not a subscriber? Sign up.
- Voters in Rhode Island have approved $400 million in spending on beaches, transportation, early childhood education, and other public goods.
- A New Jersey city has decided to sell off its public water system.
- A solar power initiative that led to teacher bonuses in Arkansas exemplifies the Green New Deal.
1) National: The Economic Policy Institute says the American Rescue Plan “is a watershed moment for state and local governments. It is an opportunity to undo much of the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and begin to address some of the long-standing inadequacies and inequities caused by decades of disinvestment in public services. As our colleague Josh Bivens notes, the bill’s $350 billion in aid to state and local governments will critically help many localities fill in for revenue losses, stem budget cuts, and respond—with important flexibility over the next few years—to massively increased fiscal demands caused by the pandemic.”
2) National: In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler writes there a provision added to the ARP bill at the last minute “counters a movement that’s been hollowing out American society for decades. (…) The provision prevents stimulus funds from subsidizing new tax cuts. For example, Florida won’t be able to use the money for its plan to cut corporate taxes. Iowa will have to find new revenue or wait until 2024 to phase out its inheritance tax. This is a big deal. As we document in a new report, anti-tax ideology is often used to justify crippling cuts to public spending. Budgets for things like public health and education get slashed because, as it’s often said, ‘We don’t have any money.’”
Republican State Officials are fighting against the provision. “One state attorney general has already taken legal action. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost sued the Biden administration this week over the limitation, saying it is unconstitutional and encroaches on his state’s autonomy over financial decisions.”
3) National: On Friday four House Democrats unveiled “the Build Green Infrastructure and Jobs Act, a bill that would invest $500 billion over 10 years in state, local, and tribal projects to galvanize the transition to all electric public transportation—reducing climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions and health-threatening air pollution while expanding clean mass transit and creating up to one million new jobs.” The measure has been endorsed by numerous progressive and environmental groups, including Sunrise Movement, the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council
Bloomberg reports that the move sets down a marker for President Biden’s infrastructure initiative. “The bill stands little chance of making it through Congress on its own, but the group plans to push the Biden administration to include the measure in its yet-to-be-unveiled next package tackling infrastructure, climate goals, and economic growth. Even that faces multiple obstacles to getting through Congress, however. While Republicans have shown interest in upgrading transportation systems, they’re already raising concerns about adding to the nation’s debt.”
Among other things, climate change is posing a dire threat to California’s ability to manage its water needs. “As drought alarms sound, is California prepared?”
4) National: Reversing a Trump/DeVos policy, the Biden administration has announced it will provide full debt relief to over 70,000 students who were defrauded by private for-profit colleges, “a move that progressive activists welcomed while demanding far more sweeping debt cancellation.” The new Education Department policy “comes as Biden continues to face pressure from progressive lawmakers and outside advocacy groups to use his authority to cancel a big chunk or all of the student loan debt currently saddling tens of millions of Americans.”
5) National: America’s Voice applauds the House for passing legislation “to formally recognize millions of undocumented immigrants as the Americans they already are. This is a settled debate. The American people want action, not excuses. We know Dreamers as our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers. The story is the same for TPS holders and farmworkers. They live in our communities, serve our communities and enrich our communities.”
6) Arkansas: Juan Cole reports that a solar power initiative that led to teacher bonuses in Arkansas exemplifies the Green New Deal. “Hester told Climatewire that after he got an estimate on the savings from going solar, he suggested, ‘Let’s use that money to start pumping up teachers’ salaries . . . It’s the way we’re going to attract and retain staff. And it’s the way we’re going to attract and retain students in this day and age of school choice.’ So Hester in 2018 partnered with Entegrity, an Arkansas-based solar company, to put 1,500 solar panels on school land, which is plentiful, and well as above the bus stops and the entrance to the school. He also had the schools made more energy efficient. (Some 25% of buildings in the US don’t even have insulation.)”
7) Maryland : A doctor in Frederick is calling on Sheriff Chuck Jenkins to suspend an immigration enforcement program for 12 weeks in order to improve COVID-19 vaccination efforts. “Menocal said Hispanics and Latinos have been fleeing the county in recent years, in part because of the [287G] program. He said he’s also heard from state officials that Hispanics from other jurisdictions are likely going to come to Frederick County to get vaccinated, so it would be a ‘good faith initiative’ by the sheriff to pause the program in the name of public health.”
8) Ohio: Community leaders are calling on Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz to back Councilwoman Cecilia Adams’ proposal to reinvent the city’s parks department. “Finkbeiner said the proposal would bring mentors, teachers, and create a relationship between Toledo Public Schools and the parks system. The former mayor points to the city’s growing problem with gun violence as one pressing reason to implement the changes. ‘I don’t have to tell anybody here, we have a growing culture of too much gun violence,’ said Finkbeiner. ‘There’s too much harm and hurtfulness to families in our community by young men who really haven’t had mentors, leaders, encouragers. There are proper ways to work with other people to overcome the circumstances of your environment.’”
9) Rhode Island: Voters have approved seven bond questions authorizing $400 million in borrowing to fund projects across the state from beaches to transportation to early childhood education. “The next step is for the state to go out to competitive bid for the bonds, according to General Treasurer Seth Magaziner’s office, which hopes to take advantage of low interest rates.
While the bond questions as they are presented to voters typically assume a 5% interest rate, Magaziner’s spokesperson says he is expecting the rates to be much lower, around 1.6%.”
10) International: In a major breakthrough for gig workers, after a British Supreme Court ruling that said Uber drivers were entitled to more protection, the company has capitulated and agreed to treat them as staff. “For years, Uber has successfully deployed armies of lawyers and lobbyists around the world to fight attempts to reclassify drivers as company workers entitled to higher wages and benefits rather than lower-cost, self-employed freelancers. Now the ride-hailing giant is retreating from that hardline stance in Britain, one of its most important markets, after a major legal defeat. On Tuesday, Uber said it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan.
“The decision represents a shift for Uber, though the move was made easier by British labor rules that offer a middle ground between freelancers and full employees that doesn’t exist in other countries. That middle ground makes it unclear whether Uber will change its stance elsewhere. More labor battles are coming in the European Union, where policymakers are considering tougher labor regulations of gig-economy companies, as well as in the United States.”
11) Songs for the Common Good: The next Zoom concert in the series, featuring Diana Jones, will be on Saturday April 10 at 5:30 pm PT/8:30 ET. You can buy tickets here. “‘I believe these women.’ That’s what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said over and over again in her testimony to a Congressional Committee after returning from a fact finding trip to immigrant detention facilities on the border in 2019 (watch it sitting down.) Diana Jones was already putting the finishing touches on an album responding to Trump’s horrific assault on immigrants. But after watching AOC’s testimony, she wrote a new song, asked some friends to join her—Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Peggy Seeger — and added one more song to the album, We Believe You.”
12) National: The National Coalition for Public Education has produced a toolkit on private school voucher programs. “This toolkit is designed as a resource to help legislators and pro-public school advocates oppose attempts to create or expand existing private school voucher programs, taking into account the legal landscape after the Supreme Court’s June 2020 decision, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. In that case the Court held that if a state creates a private school voucher program, it must allow private religious schools to participate along with private secular schools.” Download the toolkit here.
13) National: Writing in Forbes, Peter Greene outlines a new report from the Network for Public Education that shows how “charter school profiteers have found many loopholes, so that while they may not be able to set up for-profit charters, they can absolutely run charter schools for a profit. (…) You can read the entire report here. It’s loaded with details and is well-sourced, so you can check their work yourself while considering the big question—if for-profit charters are a bad idea, how are charters run for profit any better?”
14) Kentucky: Public education supporters are warning that a tax credit bill would privatize public funds and spur school privatization. “Matt Robbins, Daviess County Public Schools superintendent, said he sees this as a “voucher bill” similar to those that have been tried in numerous states and have proven the “school choice route is negligible in terms of short-term and longer-term impact on improving the quality and access to education.”
“Along those same lines, it has the potential to create similar gaps to what we saw in the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990,” Robbins said, adding that this bill “could potentially be a big step backward” in terms of education funding equity.”
15) New Hampshire: In a letter to the editor of Seacoastonline, Sheila Groonell of Exeter writes “there is now a loud and powerful Republican-based movement to ‘privatize public education.’ It would take money gained by taxing the public (us!) away from public education and give it to private enterprises (churches, Charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling individuals and groups). House Bill 20 is the mechanism to do this in N.H. Additionally, the current state government approved a federal grant to build 27 new charter schools in the state, requiring $17 million taken from local funds. (…) Such change will leave our public schools with less funding, ultimately separating the poor in public schools from the rich, one religious group from another, one social class from another. Haven’t we yet learned that separate is never equal?”
16) Pennsylvania: Members of AFSCME Council 13 Local 2360 at Lock Haven University went to Triangle Park Saturday to express their concerns about a proposed outsourcing. “Custodial workers, faculty members and Lock Haven Mayor Joel Long were among the speakers at the hour-long rally. Afterwards, Shawn O’Dell, Local 2360 President, told therecord-online the school’s proposed outsourcing could eliminate over 50 staff jobs. O’Dell said she has been told by school officials that LHU is accepting bids for the outsourcing but has not been able to learn specifically who and how many might be affected.”
17) Wisconsin: The race for state education superintendent has heated up, and the choice is stark. “Although both candidates in the officially nonpartisan race say they are Democrats, Kerr appears to be courting conservative voters, and she has received donations from Friends of Alberta Darling. Darling (R-River Hills), the chair of the Senate Education Committee, has advanced the agenda of private school vouchers in the Legislature. Kerr received $2,000 from George and Susan Mitchell, longtime voucher advocates and former leaders of School Choice Wisconsin. Notably, she also received a $15,000 donation from Pennsylvania ultra-conservative Arthur Dantchik, who has donated $147,000 to Wisconsin Republicans, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Underly came into the primary with a big boost of an endorsement and an $18,000 contribution from the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Wisconsin Educational Association Council (WEAC). Her list of endorsements now includes most of the former primary candidates.”
18) National: Republicans are shaping Biden’s infrastructure package, even if they won’t vote for it, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Rural broadband, a top-line item that typically draws significant Republican backing, is expected to be part of any infrastructure package. (…) Other areas ripe for cooperation on their own include research and development credits for small businesses, carbon capture technology (the subject of new bipartisan legislation sponsored by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons and Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy), along with nuts-and-bolts surface transportation improvements and highway funds that require renewal every few years. But Republicans are drawing red lines on how to pay for the package, rejecting any tax increases and looking askance at other climate-change-related measures. And some Democrats are already talking about using the reconciliation process to preclude the need for Republican support.” [Sub required]
19) National: The trucking industry is gearing up for a major battle against “vehicle miles travelled” systems to pay for infrastructure. Various ideas are circulating through Congress on how to pay for the package, which is expected to be announced shortly by the Biden administration. Government financing through long term federal bonds and the federal gas tax, has been the traditional route. Additional federal taxes may be part of the infrastructure legislation. Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee “warning they’d fight any proposal to impose a truck-only, vehicle miles traveled tax, saying such proposals are ‘controversial and discriminatory.’ ‘The inclusion of such a divisive policy in the next surface transportation reauthorization would instantly eliminate our support for the bill and likely destroy any hope for its passage,” he wrote.
20) National: On Thursday The Story of Stuff Project put together a virtual rally to reclaim Nestlé’s Troubled Waters. To donate or take action, visit www.storyofstuff.org/nestle or follow the links below to connect with coalition partners in your region:
- Our Santa Fe River (Florida): oursantaferiver.org
- Wellington Water Watchers (Ontario): wellingtonwaterwatchers.ca
- Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation: savemiwater.org
- Community Water Justice (Maine): communitywaterjustice.com
- Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County (Colorado): unbottle-protect.org/
- Central Colorado Climate Coalition: www.facebook.com/groups/central.colorado.climate.coaltion
“For decades, Nestlé Waters—the world’s largest water bottler—has bought up access to public water across North America to turn our most precious public resource into a private commodity. Paying next to nothing in royalties, Nestlé makes billions of dollars a year selling our water.”
Musical performances were shared by Tune-Yards, an Oakland-based duo comprised of Merrill Garbus & Nate Brenner and Alysha Brilla is a 3x Juno Award nominated artist, multi-instrumentalist, music producer and creative wellness facilitator currently producing her fifth self-produced full length record. Watch the rally; it begins at 11:50 into the video].
21) National: A new industry report looks at the issue of the digital capabilities of U.S. water utilities. “Water utilities are chronically underfunded, but the challenges they face continue to grow. These funding challenges make it essential for utilities to operate as efficiently as possible. This new study reveals that their digital capabilities are central to doing effective capital planning, operations and maintenance, and emergency preparedness and response. The study benchmarks the industry’s digital capabilities and provides a clear view of where the most valuable investments need to be made in order to help water utilities better meet the challenges they face.”
22) National: Demographics will also determine U.S. toll roads’ comeback, writes Kalliope Gourntis in Infrastructure Investor. “With toll roads losing 50-60 percent of traffic volume last April—managed lanes fared even worse, losing 60-75 percent—Covid’s impact on these assets was five times as bad as the global financial crisis. Aside from lost economic output, there is also the issue of remote working, a trend likely to continue post-pandemic.” [Sub required]. Whatever the financial and performance position of particular existing toll roads, the feasibility of future project proposals from a traffic standpoint will require tough scrutiny.
23) National: Municipal bond advocates are troubled by infrastructure’s prospects, reports the Bond Buyer. “There is a strong possibility a highly anticipated major infrastructure bill won’t have any Republican support, a reality that would limit municipal bond provisions that advocates have been pushing for years. Infrastructure advocates have called for a comprehensive bill by this summer, but some say that bill is likely to go through budget reconciliation — a tool Democrats can use to pass legislation by a simple majority in the Senate instead of the usual 60 required to get bill across the finish line in that chamber.”
The road will be difficult. “Reconciliation is not the preferred way to pass legislation and limits lawmakers’ abilities to create new policy, limits Senate debate time and comes with a 10-year budget window. Since 1980, Congress has sent 25 reconciliation measures to the president, according to the House Budget Committee. Samuels said at this point, the chances of the infrastructure bill using the reconciliation process are 50-50. Democrats have pushed for a climate-focused bill, while Republicans have been wary of raising taxes.” [Sub required]
24) Connecticut: Connecticut should continue protecting itself from bad infrastructure deals, writes In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler in the Connecticut Mirror. “Yes, like many states, Connecticut’s roads, bridges, and airports are suffering after decades of increased use and underinvestment. But such urgency calls for facts and levelheaded solutions, not buzzwords and ideology. Here are the facts about public-private partnerships. As mentioned, they’re more expensive, with interest rates sometimes multiple times higher than those that come with cheap municipal bonds. This premium can add up over the life of public-private partnerships, which often stretch for decades. (…) Then there’s the lack of transparency. Public-private partnership contracts are complex financial agreements that extend for decades. Without high standards, crucial information can be hidden from public view. (…) Then there’s the risk of substantial construction delays or outright failure.”
The bottom line? “Connecticut would be wise to keep protections against reckless public-private partnership deals on the books. If anything, state lawmakers should strengthen them. Connecticut legislators would do well to reject Senate Bill 920.”
25) Illinois: The Chicago Sun-Times says keeping water rates affordable in Illinois means thinking twice about privatization. “In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and others have come to realize that you can’t wantonly cut off water for people who just can’t pay. In July, Lightfoot launched a program to help people having trouble paying their city water and sewer bills. Elsewhere in the state, unfortunately, things are going in the opposite direction. Private companies are turning hefty profits by buying up public water and sewer systems and jacking up water bills. People who can’t pay the bills can have their water turned off. Because water systems are a monopoly, the consumers have nowhere else to turn. This trend is bad for customers, communities and the state. Too often, local officials and water customers don’t realize the long-term costs until it’s too late.”
26) New Jersey: The Egg Harbor City Council has voted to sell off its public water system. Councilperson Karl Timbers cast the lone dissenting vote. “The funds we will receive from the CARES Act, as well as potential revenue as the result of the legalization of marijuana could potentially be used to support the infrastructure,” he said. “These variables did not exist before the city began negotiations to sell the utility. If we sell the water system, it’s gone forever.”
27) Pennsylvania: Conshohocken’s Borough Council has voted to reject multiple bids from Bucks County Water & Sewer Authority, Aqua, and Pennsylvania American Water on the public sewer system. The Bucks County bid topped $50 million. “Once Borough Council voted to not sell the sewer system, the members voted 7-0 to instruct the borough’s administration to meet with the board of the Conshohocken Sewer Authority to develop a memorandum of understanding between the borough and authority. The purpose of this wasn’t clear, so we will follow-up with what exactly this means and how it pertains to the funding needed for the infrastructure plan.”
28) South Carolina: Battle lines have been drawn over the fate of Santee Cooper over whether the troubled public utility should be reformed or privatized. FITSNews, a muckraking site, has put the advocate for reform, Republican Luke Rankin, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, in its crosshairs.
29) International: Matt Wiebe, the NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly for Concordia, Manitoba, says government plans for Manitoba Hydro will mean higher prices and privatization. “Hiking Hydro rates, privatizing public services, and cutting good jobs will only exacerbate the tough economic hurdles so many are facing. That’s why myself and our NDP team have remained committed to fighting the PCs’ troubling action on Hydro. We will stand up in the Legislature to delay government bills that weaken the PUB and open the door to breaking up Hydro, and fight to keep rates low and ensure Hydro stays public.”
30) International: David McDonald and Susan Spronk say COVID-19 has decimated water systems globally, but privatization is not the answer. “Alarmingly, one possible consequence of COVID-19 may be an increase in privatization in the water sector. Our recent book, co-edited with Daniel Chavez, a fellow at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, demonstrates how many governments are using the crisis to promote private sector participation in water and sanitation. This pressure to privatize is particularly notable in places where there was already a push to do so, such as Brazil. In other cases, fiscal strains are pushing authorities to consider privatization, such as in Philadelphia. In Jakarta, COVID-19 has emboldened the state to retract its promise to reverse water privatization. Some multilateral organizations are also using COVID-19 to promote water privatization.”
31) Think Tanks: A new nonprofit group is raising a lot of money to support President Biden’s agenda, including his upcoming push for a major infrastructure initiative. “The organization, which intends to formally launch in the next month, is modeled after the Common Purpose Project, an Obama-era 501(c)(4) nonprofit that helped bring together progressive organizations for weekly meetings and promote the president’s agenda. That group, which is no longer active, limited donations from individuals to $50,000 and voluntarily disclosed names of donors. But many rival organizations have refrained from imposing those kinds of restrictions in recent years. Supporters of former President Donald Trump created America First Policies in 2017, a nonprofit that was staffed by former Trump campaign aides and didn’t disclose donors.” [Sub required]
Criminal Justice and Immigration
32) National: Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) says “@POTUS was absolutely right to end DOJ’s use of private prisons. Our system must be for justice, not profit. Today, I joined @Ilhan & many of our colleagues to urge that he take the next logical step: Ending ICE’s contracts with state, county, and local jails/prisons.” Read the full letter.
33) National: Frank Sharry, the veteran immigrants rights activist, says Democrats should stand firm on reforming the system. “The road ahead? We understand, respect and support those Senate Democrats that are reaching out to Republicans in a sincere attempt to build bipartisan support. We know that 60 votes are needed if we are to legalize millions through ‘regular order.’ But for those of us who have strived for bipartisanship on immigration reform for decades, you can list us as highly doubtful. We’ve seen too many times how Republicans use the border as an excuse to oppose legalization. We’ve seen too many times how Republicans demand too much on enforcement tradeoffs and deliver too few votes for final passage. We’ve seen too many times how Republicans pretend to be for reform while scheming to undermine reform. So, yeah. We’re just not going to chase false promises of bipartisanship. We want Democrats to use every ounce of power to do big things that change lives. You know the options. Get ready to use them.”
34) National: Commenting on Seeking Alpha, John Arnold believes “GEO Group’s dividend is not safe.” He says “the yield is massive, but is a trap.”
35) National: Private, for profit waste haulage companies, many of which do business with public structures, fall short on racial justice. “A new scorecard rating companies on their racial justice efforts and workplace equity disclosures credited Republic Services’ a nd Waste Management’s public acknowledgement of racism and pledges for change, but gave both companies overall low scores for not releasing specific metrics related to pay equity, promotions, recruitment and retention numbers broken down by race and gender.”
36) National: Writing in Counterpunch, Ralph Nader looks at the shortcomings of the American Rescue Plan with respect to the private insurance companies. “Where is the outcry among Democratic politicians to reverse completely the corporate takeover of Medicare?”
37) National: More states are weighing the privatization of state workers compensation funds. “On Jan 12, a Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced H.B. 761, which would require the state-controlled Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co. to transition into a private mutual insurance company. The bill would require the board of directors of Columbia-based Missouri Employers Mutual to outline steps for converting into a private mutual insurance company by the start of 2022. The same lawmaker put forward a nearly identical bill in early 2020 that died in committee.”
38) Massachusetts: Boston’s MBTA transit agency “is backtracking on planned budget cuts in the face of criticism from the state’s congressional delegation over the agency’s decision to reduce service despite recently receiving more than $1 billion in federal pandemic relief.
The T has curtailed plans to lay off 40 commuter rail conductors and is accelerating plans to increase the service it just reduced this winter. In a letter to Representative Stephen Lynch, general manager Steve Poftak said the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will “commit to increasing service levels as quickly as possible on the bus and subway.’”
39) Oklahoma: The state has responded to a lawsuit seeking to stop the privatization of health care. “The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state’s Medicaid agency, recently announced contracts with four companies for more than $2 million to proceed with managed care, despite opposition from lawmakers and health care organizations. The plaintiffs include the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma Dental Association, the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, the Oklahoma Society of Anesthesiologists and the Oklahoma Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics. Critics of managed care say it will reduce provider rates, forcing many health care providers to drop Medicaid patients. Supporters say it is needed to increase positive health outcomes and save the state money.”
40) National: Did you know that Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for public accounting, including for projects such as so-called public-private partnerships, are set by a private organization?
41) Virginia: Can redevelopment be a cover for gentrification? Long-time TV journalist Soledad O’Brien took up the question in a BET documentary series called “Disrupt and Dismantle” that focused on Norfolk’s St. Paul’s area. “In interviews with several residents, activists and experts, O’Brien laid out the plight of those in St. Paul’s. They don’t trust the city to follow through on promises that those who want to return to the new St. Paul’s will be able to. Many residents aren’t sure where they’ll end up, and they worry their communities will be scattered to the winds in the process. O’Brien bluntly labeled the redevelopment project as ‘gentrification’ and asked ‘is there a way to improve the community for the people who live there now?’” The episode was the fifth in a six-part series airing on BET about systemic racism and how it continues to impact Black communities. It can be viewed in its entirety at bet.com/shows/disrupt-and-dismantle.html.
Photo by Taber Andrew Bain.