- PowerSwitch: The People (Can) Have the Power
- ITPI: Imagine no charter in Imperial County
- Texas foster care falters under privatization
First, the Good News…
1) National: PowerSwitch Action has produced the toolkit Energy Democracy, “a renewable energy system governed by people. And it’s already happening in cities across the country. From Boston to Florida to the East Bay, communities are rejecting the greedy and harmful practices of their current electric utilities, and reimagining an energy system that centers everyday people, workers, and our planet. This toolkit provides videos, factsheets, and a slide deck to help organizers, community members, and grassroots groups win the power to both light our homes and create the society we want to live in.”
2) National: Tonight the Massachusetts Teachers Association is holding a Virtual Forum on the Thrive Act, High-Stakes Standardized Testing & State Takeover featuring Congressman @JamaalBowmanNY and a powerful panel of guests. From 6-7 p.m. EST. Go here to register.
3) National: The Washington Center for Equitable Growth has a new issue brief explaining a free tax filing option to reduce the cost and complexity for U.S. taxpayers. “Tax preparation companies prey upon low-income taxpayers, purposefully obfuscate existing free filing options for people who qualify for them, and consistently register high filing error rates for their customers. (…) In an attempt to alleviate these problems, the IRS recently released a reportinvestigating the feasibility and cost of filing directly through the IRS via a new proposed service called Direct File.”
4) National/Pennsylvania: Katie Blume, the Millheim Borough Council president, is praising and supporting the county’s proposed responsible contracting ordinance. “As a longtime Centre County resident and Millheim Borough Council president, knowing how high our county ranks in workplace fatalities hits home. That’s why Millheim Borough passed a resolution in April recognizing Workers’ Memorial Day, and why I support the county’s proposed responsible contracting ordinance. One of the most important pieces of the responsible contractor ordinance, a requirement that workers receive OSHA safety training, will help make sure that job sites for county capital projects are safe and that workers are protected.” Here’s the text of the ordinance.
5) National: Three chemical companies have agreed to pay over $1 billion in response to public water suits. “The companies—Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva—said they had reached an agreement in principle to set up a $1.19 billion fund to help remove toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from public drinking water systems. PFAS have been linked to liver damage, weakened immune systems and several forms of cancer, among other harms, and are referred to as forever chemicals because they linger in the human body and the environment. Bloomberg News also reported on Friday that 3M had reached a tentative deal worth “at least $10 billion” with U.S. cities and towns to resolve related PFAS claims. Sean Lynch, a spokesman for 3M, declined to comment on the report, which cited people familiar with the deal without naming them.”
6) California: Clare Crawford, In the Public Interest’s Senior Policy Advisor, reports on the anatomy of a victory. “Up until the moment after the motion to approve the petition to establish Imagine Schools of Imperial County (California) was made at the meeting of the Imperial County Board of Education, no one knew how the decision would go. Not that folks hadn’t gone through this same process before. Imagine Schools had a long and checkered history in Imperial County, having a previous school shut down for academic failure and no luck attempting to reopen with the County Board in 2019. (…) But what followed the motion to approve the petition was a surprise: Nothing. No board member stepped up to second the motion and, without the second, no vote could proceed. At a subsequent meeting, the board made official what had already been determined. (…) With their leadership publicly opposed to the charter, these districts mobilized. Teachers and classified employees unions organized and turned out in opposition to the charter, with constant communications among them to keep up to date and coordinate for the packed, pivotal meeting where the Board ultimately decided.” [Read ITPI’s research brief on Imagine Schools].
7) California: The Tribune reports that “more than $27 million will be invested on the Central Coast by three companies expected to build massive floating wind energy developments 20 miles off the shores of San Luis Obispo County, according to federal documents.” The commitments the companies made as part of the lease auction process “will be a cornerstone of our community benefit efforts.”
8) New York: New Yorkers have won an historic victory for public power. The passage of the Build Public Renewables Act “will improve the lives of New Yorkers and be a model of how to rapidly ramp up the production of renewable energy for the country. An unprecedented movement of New Yorkers, unions, and environmental justice groups from Long Island to Buffalo came together to fight back against Hochul’s attempts to weaken the bill. And together, we won. The Build Public Renewables Act will create a new era of green union jobs in renewable energy production, slash rising energy bills, and shut down polluting fracked gas power plants in Black and brown communities – finally fulfilling the promise of the Green New Deal. The new policy will enable New York to meet its bold climate goals set in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) with a publicly-owned system that is accountable to New Yorkers, not shareholders.”
9) West Virginia: The governor’s coal empire is again being sued by the federal government. The government is seeking $7.6 million in unpaid environmental fines and overdue fees. “The move adds to Justice’s growing legal and debt problems and comes just a month into his campaign for the U.S. Senate,” ProPublica reports. “In response to this week’s suit, Justice sought to divert attention from the substance of the case by implying that the White House was using regulatory agencies for political purposes. “Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and the Democrats have seen the polling that show me winning this U.S. Senate race. Now the Biden Administration has started their political games to beat me,” the governor said in a tweet. [Jim] Justice, a hugely popular Republican, is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who is often the swing vote on key legislation. Government lawyers said the underlying violations included the failure to maintain and ensure the stability of a dam, violating pollution limits and not controlling erosion or sediment from mine sites.”
10) International: 400,000 Ontarians have voted to stop the privatization of the province’s public hospitals in a mass community-run referendum. “‘We are unalterably opposed to the gutting and dismantling of our public hospitals and the privatization of them,’ said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. ‘This is the beginning of what will be a relentless campaign to stop them from privatizing our public hospitals. We have no choice because once we lose them, I don’t know how we will get them back. It will be very difficult if not impossible to get them back.’ (…) We will not stop until they stop.’”
11) Book Review: Writing in The American Prospect, Maureen Tkacik reviews two new books exposing the private equity industry—Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner’s These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs—and Wrecks—America; and Brendan Ballou’s Plunder: Private Equity’s Plan to Pillage America. “As both books explore in depressing detail, public servants in every agency and branch of government have bent over backwards to assist private equity firms in securing public pension fund financing for their exploits. Cities signed lucrative privatization deals with PE-owned ambulance operators and infrastructure subsidiaries. Regulators proved incapable of enforcing consumer protections or fraud statutes that might threaten PE profit margins. Perhaps most maddeningly, PE firms are routinely immunized from the possibility of private-sector consequences for their profiteering, as 38 state legislatures did most recently in 2020 when they passed blanket liability shields on nursing homes and hospitals for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.”
12) National: The Hechinger Report’s Linda K. Wertheimer takes us inside segments of the Christian legal campaign to return prayer to public schools. “The Kennedy ruling was a huge victory for the movement, which has focused its strategy in recent years on elevating conservative Christian judges, Seidel told me. ‘The other side is emboldened, and the other side is not individuals,’ he said. ‘It is a group of well-funded Christian nationalist legal outfits looking for these cases and seizing upon them so they can take them to court.’ (…) Keisha Russell and Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, told me their firms are looking for fresh opportunities to bring cases.” But “defenders of a separation between church and state say the pro-prayer movement’s version of religious liberty ignores the harm that public school prayer does to others. Holly Hollman, the general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, an organization of attorneys, ministers and scholars who defend religious freedom for all, including the nonreligious, told me: ‘Prayer is not going to be inclusive, even if it’s the broadest prayer.’” The article was produced in partnership with The New Republic.
13) Florida: Writing in The Hechinger Report, Kathryn Joyce takes us “Inside Florida’s ‘Underground Lab’ for Far-Right Education Policies.” Joyce reports that “the dizzying number of attacks has led to staffing and hiring challenges, the cancelation of a class, a budding exodus of liberals from the county, and fears that destroying public education is the ultimate endgame. In January, Ziegler’s husband, Christian—who chairs the Florida Republican Party—tweeted a celebratory declaration: ‘SARASOTA IS GROUND ZERO FOR CONSERVATIVE EDUCATION.’ It wasn’t hyperbole, said Moricz. ‘We say that Sarasota is Florida’s underground lab, and we’re its non-consenting lab rats.’”
14) Florida: “The voucher school cash grab is on,” writes Scott Maxwell in the Orlando Sentinel. “Look for rising tuition prices.” Maxwell reports that “earlier this year, St. Paul Catholic School in St. Petersburg planned to keep its tuition about the same—$7,000 a year for families who weren’t members of the church. But then Florida lawmakers approved the biggest school-voucher giveaway in American history —one that promises vouchers worth around $8,000 to every child in the state, regardless of income or need. So, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, the church school did some re-calculating and decided that, instead of leaving their tuition at a price that would be fully covered by the vouchers, they would jack up tuition to $12,000. Talk about pennies from heaven…”
15) Idaho: The school privatization movement is ramping up its efforts based on misinformation. “Meanwhile, another out-of-state privatization group, the American Federation for Children, circulated a flyer in northern Idaho this spring thanking Sen. Scott Herndon ‘for standing with Idaho’s students and parents.’ The flyer, which had a return address for a suite in Dallas, Texas, claimed that ‘Senator Scott Herndon is putting Idaho’s Students First!’ The truth is Herndon didn’t vote for any bill that would help Idaho’s students. He voted no on increased funding for our public schools. No on increased funding for career technical education. No on $5 million to help students with dyslexia. No on funding for community colleges. No on funding for higher education. No on grants for students to attend community college or technical schools. No on scholarships for students to attend college.”
16) New Hampshire: The New Hampshire Bulletin’s Ethan DeWitt reports on the state of play on the education budget. “The budget approved by the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday would remove Weyler’s changes, and maintain the requirement that the Education Trust Fund pay for school building aid, special education aid, charter school lease aid, tuition and transportation aid, and other funding programs.”
17) Pennsylvania/National: In a letter to the editor of PennLive, Robin B. Agerton of Mechanicsburg says protecting the freedom of students to learn accurate history is a bipartisan cause. “Despite national conservative groups endorsing extremists, supplying the playbook, providing a script, and calling the shots, there are Republicans, Democrats, and entire communities that will vote to protect their students’ freedom to learn an honest history of America in a welcoming environment.”
18) Montana: Educators are preparing to sue the state over its charter school legislation, the Flathead Beacon’s Denali Sagner reports. “Lawmakers this session passed two bills authorizing the creation of charter schools — making Montana the 46th state to permit the independent, publicly-funded schools. The passage of House Bill 549 and House Bill 562 marked the culmination of a years-long battle by ‘school choice’ activists to bring charters to Montana, which they say will offer increased educational options for parents and students. (…) Yet the road towards the formation of charter schools in Montana remains convoluted, as educators and lawmakers prepare for a legal battle over House Bill 562, a proposal that they allege will funnel public dollars into under-regulated schools that will operate without constitutionally-mandated oversight. The two ‘school choice’ bills signed by the governor, House Bill 549 and House Bill 562, create diverging paths for the establishment of charter schools in Montana, one of which has garnered the support of school administrators and education organizations, and the other of which has drawn ire from the same groups.”
19) Pennsylvania: As we reported last week, the Philadelphia Marriott is facing criticism for hosting an upcoming conference (June 29 to July 2) that features Moms for Liberty, a small band of ultra-activists campaigning for book bannings across the country. Now comes word that Trump will be addressing the conference, which is sure to raise the war on public education and public libraries to a new level of vitriol.
20) National: The decades-long crusade of developers, the road industry and energy conglomerates to gut the National Environmental Policy Act has been given a major boost by the insertion of an expedited approval process for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Most of the NEPA changes are relatively minor, and several involve initiatives that the Biden administration has already been implementing. But they do include timeline cuts for the most thorough NEPA reviews, known as environmental impact statements. The longest NEPA reviews can take up to four and a half years, but the FRA cuts the maximum time to two years for strict reviews and one year for most other studies. Agencies can ask for an extension, but project sponsors can sue for expedited approval. Even if that suit is successful, the agency would have an additional 90 days. Other changes include arbitrary page limits for NEPA studies. All of these changes are expected to happen without additional funding to NEPA agencies; in fact, the agencies that carry out NEPA are likely to see spending freezes or even cuts under the spending cap in the FRA. In other words, the changes create near-impossible expectations for every federal agency that works on a NEPA review: Do more with less money.”
21) National: The first trial in federal court brought by military families alleging they were sickened by and forced to live in toxic mold- and pest-infested base housing at JBSA-Randolph Air Force Base and Laughlin Air Force Base begins today in San Antonio. James R. Moriarty of the military families’’ legal team said, according to a news release, “This litigation is urgent for the affected military families in the case, but also for thousands of other servicemembers and their families around the nation that live in substandard privatized military housing controlled by a cartel of unaccountable companies.”
22) Florida: Florida Politics reports that “‘Prosecutors spun compelling tale of greed, deception in JEA hearing’ via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union—Prosecutors carried a burden throughout the hearing of convincing a U.S. magistrate judge that the evidence they marshaled to bring an indictment against former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn and CFO Ryan Wannemacher was untainted by sworn statements both men provided city attorneys in the immediate aftermath of the botched privatization effort—statements that prosecutors are barred from using against them in court. That burden led the government to make damaging disclosures about previously secret evidence it gathered during the course of a two-year investigation. Taken together, that evidence told a compelling story about the final summer of Zahn’s tumultuous tenure at JEA, during which he and Wannemacher are accused of concocting a scheme to extract millions of dollars out of the potential sale of the city utility.”
23) New Jersey: Salem residents may get to vote on whether to privatize their city water and sewer utility. “Water is our most precious natural resource and our water/sewer system belongs to our entire community, including those surrounding communities that draw from our streams,” Salem resident Janice Roots said. “We have to work together to resolve our quality and quantity issues and produce clean, safe water in order to keep the stakeholders of our system thriving for the benefit of present and future generations. (…) Kate Delany, an organizer with Food & Water Watch, said that law allows a utility sale without local government obtaining approval from residents. ‘We have seen towns across New Jersey—and the country—learn the hard way that water privatization is a bad deal for residents and local businesses,’ Delany said. ‘There are better options available to towns that do not require them to surrender control over valuable public infrastructure. This grassroots movement is about preserving public control and empowering residents.’” City Administrator Ben Angeli “confirmed receipt of the petition and said it will be reviewed for compliance with state election law.”
24) International: Opposition is building against the government’s intention to use a so-called public-private partnership “after documents reveal the federal government is only entertaining public-private partnership funding models for a mostly electric rail megaproject in Canada’s busiest service corridor.” Yahoo reports on Unifor’s and the New Democratic Party’s objections. “‘The problem with that is that it ends up costing Canadians more in the long run because the private sector has to build a financial return into their calculations,’ [NDP MP Taylor Bachrach] told Canada’s National Observerin an interview. He pointed to a 2014 audit from Ontario’s auditor general that found partnering with the private sector on infrastructure projects cost the province $8 billion more than if those same projects were managed publicly. ‘The federal government has access to the lowest cost financing out there and is able to leverage that to build public infrastructure affordably,’ Bachrach added. ‘But instead, the Liberal government has been tirelessly pursuing this, this, this dream of turning public infrastructure over to their corporate friends. Why is the minister so obsessed with privatizing our public rail system?’ he asked his colleagues in the House.”
25) International: For many years there has been widespread consensus that among the worst reasons to private a public asset or service is to raise money for short-term budgeting. There’s a reason why privatizers say “desperate governments are our best customers.” But here comes the Egyptian government considering selling off its most prized asset—the Suez Canal—to try and dig itself out of a financial hole. “There is a widespread fear that the Suez Canal could become the target of rushed deals. If the state gradually sells off shareholdings to refill its coffers, Cairo could eventually lose control over this highly profitable entity. The unease is amplified by President El-Sisi’s decision to open equity in 32 companies to minority shareholders, aiming to draw in $40 billion in investments over the next four years.”
26) National/Revolving Door News: Wendell Potter, a former insurance agency executive who left the industry to become a pro-consumer whistleblower, says there is a bipartisan push to privatize Medicare—and we need to fight back. “We need to educate Democrats on how, why it happened to build a defense against complete Medicare privatization,” Potter writes. “Tavenner’s tenure as the CMS administrator was relatively short, but by the time she left for AHIP in early 2015 (and was succeeded by former UnitedHealth executive Andy Slavitt), insurers had a strategy largely in place to accelerate the privatization of Medicare, a long-time dream of many Republican lawmakers, and to get Democrats to unwittingly go along with it. But it wasn’t just Tavenner who insurers tapped that year to help implement their Medicare privatization scheme. In April 2015, the Better Medicare Alliance, an outfit launched a few months earlier by insurers but that claimed to be a coalition, recruited former Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania as its first CEO. Together, Tavenner and Schwartz got scores of Democrats on the Medicare Advantage bandwagon.”
27) National: Artificial intelligence technology is being driven into the public sector by commercial interests, writes Salon’s Rae Hodge. “Government tech contracts can be just as lucrative as enterprise contracts for a burgeoning company at the head of a digital revolution—as Microsoft would know, with its financial foundations rooted in mass public-sector deployment. It’s too early to speculate on whether government contracts may be a target market for a company like OpenAI, as it is for Clearview AI, the controversial facial recognition software often used by law enforcement agencies to monitor protests. But with Microsoft’s latest announcement that some OpenAI features will be integrated into certain upcoming Windows systems — and the recent successes of Altman’s Congressional charm offensive—lawmakers have reason to pause when considering the gravity of the tech executives’ wording here. Fear, after all, is a powerful sales tool.”
28) California: Bus drivers in San Diego are entering the third week of their strike against the private company—Transdev—that has taken over much of the public service. “That’s prompting transit riders to ask a common question: Why has the Metropolitan Transit System outsourced most of its bus operations to private companies? The striking bus drivers work for Transdev, a multinational company MTS contracts with to operate more than half of its bus routes.”
This has been part of a wider trend and is complicating labor relations, KPBS reports. “If we zoom out from MTS in particular, there has been a big push for more outsourcing and more privatization over the past ten, 20 years…. I can say [public] MTS employees have not been calling strikes recently. I don’t know if they ever have. They’ve done a much better job at keeping their employees working [than—ed.] Transdev and First Transit. The two contractors have both experienced strikes this year. The other thing to keep in mind is, you know, there’s this middleman now that kind of slows down the responsiveness to a strike. So rather than the rider being able to go directly to MTS and say, ‘Hey, fix this now, do whatever it takes to get the buses running again,’ they have to go to MTS, and then MTS has to put pressure on Transdev and… they have to call an emergency board meeting and, you know, flex their muscles a little bit or make some threats.’”
29) Iowa: The state auditor, Rob Sand (D), is accusing Republicans of corrupt attempts to block his investigations, Talking Points Memo Blog reports. “Iowa’s governor, Republican Kim Reynolds, signed a new law on Thursday evening that will significantly restrict the ability of the state auditor—Iowa’s top watchdog—to perform his duties. State Auditor Rob Sand (D) responded with a blistering statement describing the legislation as ‘the worst pro-corruption bill in Iowa history.’ ‘It will allow insiders to play fast and loose with Iowans’ tax dollars because those very same people will be able to deny the Auditor’s Office access to the records necessary to expose them,’ said Sand. “As Assistant Attorney General, I prosecuted criminal cases for seven years. This is akin to letting the defendant decide what evidence the judge and jury are allowed to see…’
“Sand also notes that the impact of this legislation goes beyond his office. By removing the auditor’s subpoena power and effectively allowing disputes over records to be settled by the governor and her appointees, the legislation could erode the role of the state’s courts. ‘The really important thing that a lot of people miss about this bill is, it’s not just an attack on the auditor’s office. It also removes an important part of the Iowa judicial system,’ Sand said. Overall, Sand suggested the legislation is a worrying sign of creeping authoritarianism in his state.”
30) Maine/Connecticut: Evan Popp of The Beacon, a project of the Maine People’s Alliance, says there’s a cautionary tale from Connecticut as Maine lawmakers weigh privatizing paid leave. “The provision that allows for privatization is supported by Gov. Janet Mills, whose administration—along with advocating for the paid leave policy to be narrowed in scope—is throwing cold water on the idea of the DOL administering the program and instead pushing for the state to ‘contract with a third party to run the program.’ But proponents of paid leave are warning that privatization could lead to a number of issues, pointing to problems another New England state has faced when contracting out the claims process in its policy.”
James Myall, an analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, “also cautioned against having a private administrator of a state paid leave program, pointing to the issues seen in Connecticut. Myall said while the sponsors of LD 1964 have created safeguards designed to stop some of the worst aspects of privatization from occurring, there is still the potential for problems under such a set-up. ‘The thing about having any third-party administrator insurance company is that it reduces the accountability that ultimately voters and taxpayers have over the program because they’re one step removed,’ Myall said.”
31) Texas: Foster care privatization in Texas is in trouble, reports the Texas Tribune. “But as the state soldiers forward, working to hire more contractors to take over what has always been a state task, the rollout has been complicated. Third-party vendors have entered and backed out of contracts after losing money. Those that pushed through financial losses have publicly pressured the agency to be more flexible in its regulations. And agency caseworkers feel like they’ve been hung out to dry. Under the new model, state caseworkers are being asked to switch to nonprofit employers who cannot offer the same benefits, pay, and stability. Six years into the rollout, it’s unclear whether the model has helped the foster care system at all.”
32) International: The government consulting scandal in Australia, centered on PwC, is widening, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Richard Aedy reports. “The federal government pays private consulting firms hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year. But can we really trust they’re acting in our best interests and, if not, why are we outsourcing such a large amount of public sector work to them?” [Video, about 14 minutes]. Crikey reports that improper use by PwC of “confidential Commonwealth information” has “prompted observers to ask what sort of relationship PwC has with the Federal Police, given the AFP is now going to be investigating it. And… yes, the AFP is currently paying PwC for various services. According to publicly available tender data, the AFP has contracted the firm for millions of dollars’ worth of strategy, software… even auditing. (…) Policymakers and the general public are finally waking up to the scope of the influence of the big firms, which deliver more and more of the core functions and services of the Commonwealth government.” [Sub required]
33) National/Texas: On Saturday the New York Times editorial board ran a powerful editorial on the authoritarian and anti-democratic practice of state preemption, focusing on Texas. “The bill, recently approved by the Texas House and Senate, would nullify any city ordinance or regulation that conflicts with existing state policy in those crucial areas, and would give private citizens or businesses the right to sue and seek damages if they believe there is a discrepancy between city and state. That means no city could prohibit discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. employees, as several Texas cities have done. No city could adopt new rules to limit predatory payday-lending practices. No city could restrict overgrown lots, or unsafe festivals, or inadequate waste storage. Cities would even be banned from enacting local worker protections, including requiring water breaks for laborers in the Texas heat, as Dallas, Austin and other cities have done following multiple deaths and injuries.”
While similar bills are being introduced across the country, some local governments are fighting back. “Some cities, including Nashville, Cleveland and Coral Gables, Fla., have fought back and won in court; in Maryland, Florida and several other states, Democrats have joined Republican moderates to beat back some of these bills. But in many other states, the will of the people in these cities is being silenced. They and their representatives will have to use every legal means available to be heard.”
34) Think Tanks: The right wing Hoover Institution, which has received millions of dollars from the major foundations of the right wing infrastructure (including Koch), has acquired the archives of Robert W. Poole, a co-founder of Reason magazine and director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation (also a recipient of Koch money, and, it should be noted, a stout defender of Harlan Crow and Clarence Thomas). Sounds like a great opportunity for some enterprising scholar on public goods, public services, and the public interest to do some deep research on the history of corporate privatization.