Feds join court fight to restart $5.6 billion P3 Purple Line light rail

Source: Jim Watts, Bond Buyer, July 17, 2017
 
The Federal Transit Administration has joined Maryland in a court battle seeking to overturn a federal judge’s order that halted work on the $5.6 billion Purple Line light rail project being financed as a public-private partnership. The FTA filed documents on Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to join the state’s case as it fights District Judge Richard Leon’s decision in August 2016 to vacate the project’s federal environmental clearance.  Maryland was only five days away from signing an acceptance agreement with the FTA for a $900 million New Starts grant when Leon’s order cut off funding for the Purple Line until a final decision in a lawsuit over environmental issues that was filed in 2014. …

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Maryland seeks fast track for Purple Line appeal
Source: Jim Watts, Bond Buyer, July 5, 2017
 
Maryland is urging a federal appeals court to speed up the state’s effort to overturn a lower court order that has halted work for almost a year on its proposed $5.6 billion Purple Line light rail system being financed as a public-private partnership. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a motion July 3 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia asking the court to expedite the hearing schedule by ordering briefings to begin by July 20 and end no later than Aug. 24. At that point, the court likely would hear oral arguments before issuing a decision. …

Opinion: The Purple Line is fading to black
Source: Washington Post, April 5, 2017
 
After a quarter-century of planning, several hundred million dollars in public money, scores of public hearings and endless studies, the Purple Line, one of the Washington area’s most important transit projects, may be facing extinction. If that happens, it would be a testament to dysfunction, inertia and judicial negligence.  Having come within five days of receiving $900 million in federal funding, the 16-mile light-rail line was dealt an unwarranted setback last summer by a federal judge, whose ongoing foot-dragging, combined with the Trump administration’s hostility to new transit ventures, imperils an east-west link that would be a lifeline for tens of thousands of residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and would revitalize an arc of close-in suburban communities. With every passing day, the Purple Line’s prospects are dimming. The federal funding agreement frozen in August by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon was the project’s linchpin; without it, a multibillion-dollar public-private partnership cannot go forward, and investors who were ready to start building are stuck. Without a green light now from Mr. Leon, it may be all but impossible to revive the federal funding agreement for the foreseeable future. That’s because the Trump administration has proposed halting all cash for transit projects that lack signed funding agreements, starting almost immediately and lasting for the remainder of the fiscal year. …

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Immigrants Are Dying in U.S. Detention Centers. And It Could Get Worse.

Source: Brendan O’Boyle, Americas Quarterly, July 17, 2017

… Trump’s policies are already increasing the number of people held in detention centers, further straining the system. … The administration has signaled its commitment to private prison companies, which also operate immigrant detention centers. This alarms detainee advocates, since five out of the seven detainees who died this year were being held by privately operated providers, and multiple investigations have found privately operated prisons to be more dangerous for inmates. … As it pushes for more detentions, the Trump administration also reportedly has plans to weaken protections for immigrant detainees. …

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Immigrant Deaths in Private Prisons Explode Under Trump
Source: Justin Glawe, Daily Beast, May 30, 2017

Men and women held by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are on pace to die at double the rate of those who died in ICE custody last year, a Daily Beast review of ICE records found. And most will die in privately run facilities. Eight people have died in ICE custody in the 2017 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2016. That’s almost as many as the 10 who died in the entire 2016 fiscal year. All but one of the deaths this year, and all but two last year, occurred in privately run prisons. Nine of the 18 deaths occurred at facilities run by GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company. …

The problem with privatizing prisons
Source: Farah Mohammed, Daily JStor, May 15, 2017

… The theory behind private prisons has translated poorly into practice, however, and has been strongly criticized. Studies showed there were minimal savings compared to using public prisons. A scandal involving the murder of an Oklahoma couple by escaped inmates was linked to lax security at their private facility. Another private Ohio prison saw thirteen stabbings, two murders, and six escapes in its initial 14 months.  In 2011, a Court Judge was convicted in a “cash for kids jail scheme,” in which private prisons had paid him to dole out harsh sentences in order to maintain their prison population. … Under Trump, inmate numbers are expected to increase substantially, following a crackdown on illegal immigration and a new insistence on mandatory minimums (where repeat offenders of even non-violent crimes must serve sentences of years). …

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School board rejects plan to privatize food services

Source: Christina Daly, Long Beach Herald, July 13, 2017

The Long Beach Board of Education voted 3-2 to reject a plan to privatize the school district’s lunch program that administrators said would have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. At a contentious July 6 meeting, the board rejected a bid by Chartwells, a food- service company, to take over the district’s food operations and help fill a budget gap. School officials said the district lost about $400,000 in food services in each of the past two years due to a lack of student participation in the federally funded National School Lunch Program, which partially reimburses the district for lunches that the agency considers healthy. …

Towns sell their public water systems — and come to regret it

Source: Elizabeth Douglass, The Washington Post, July 8, 2017

Neglected water infrastructure is a national plague. By one estimate, U.S. water systems need to invest $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, federal funding for water infrastructure has fallen 74 percent in real terms since 1977, and low-interest government loans have not filled the gap. … The prospect of offloading these headaches to for-profit water companies — and fattening city budgets in the process — is enticing to elected officials who worry that rate hikes could cost them their jobs. Once a system has been sold, private operators, not public officials, take the blame for higher rates. But privatization will not magically relieve Americans of the financial burden of upgrading their water infrastructure. … One of the biggest inducements for water deals is the “fair market value” legislation that has been passed in six states — Indiana, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — and is being considered by others.  …

… Even as more cities consider selling their water infrastructure, others are trying to wrest control of their systems back from private operators, usually because of complaints about poor service or rate hikes. Since private owners are rarely willing to surrender these lucrative investments, cities usually end up pursuing eminent domain in court. That means proving that city ownership is in the public’s interest and then paying a price determined by the court. Those prices can be exorbitant. …

Warning: Trump Administration Wants To Privatize National Park Campsites

Source: James Jimenez, KRWG, July 8, 2017

… U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently announced that he wants to privatize our national park campsites. There are a lot of problems with this—primarily that prices will very likely be raised. Also, there is generally much less accountability when private companies run government programs. It becomes not only more difficult to determine just how our tax dollars are being spent, but there is also more room for subtle forms of discrimination to take place. By definition privatization means an economic focus on the use of public lands rather than a conservation and equity focus. Sec. Zinke’s desire to privatize public campgrounds is just one small symptom of a bigger illness that has this presidential administration in its grip—the illness of commodifying everything and anything that can, in any way, be made to profit someone. …

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As Trump moves to privatize America’s national parks, visitor costs may rise 
Source: Mary Catherine O’Connor, The Guardian, June 25, 2017 

America’s national parks need a staggering $11.5bn worth of overdue road and infrastructure repairs. But with the proposed National Park Service budget slashed by almost $400m, the Trump administration says it will turn to privatizing public park services to address those deferred maintenance costs. … But some public lands advocates are concerned that privatization would drive up costs for visitors and put the egalitarian nature of visiting a park out of reach for some. … If you’ve visited a national park, especially a busy one, such as Yosemite or Grand Canyon, there is a good chance you’ve patronized a private operator. Concessionaires operate a range of services including lodging, restaurants and transportation – ferries to Alcatraz and Liberty islands, for example. All told, the NPS has issued private concession contracts at 100 places within the park system. In recent years, disagreements over park contracts have led to costly lawsuits for the park service. … It would take a tremendous increase in such contracts to generate enough revenue to help the park system. … But despite his bullishness on infrastructure spending, Trump has proposed cutting the NPS budget by nearly $400m, which will force job cuts. …

Atlantic City Votes To Protect Its Water From Chris Christie

Source: Daniel Cohen, Alternet, July 14, 2017
 
On Tuesday, the Atlantic City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to ensure its residents get to vote on any action by the state to sell or lease the city’s water system.  Why might New Jersey sell or lease Atlantic City’s water? Well, because Christie has been laying the groundwork for such a deal for years. In 2014, he passed a statewide law making it easier for struggling municipalities to sell off water infrastructure. Turns out, Atlantic City has been struggling—mainly due to a rash of casino closures, including Trump’s failed Taj Mahal. Last summer, after the state bailed the city out, Christie made it loud and clear there were strings attached: “I want [the loan] secured by every asset they have, so that if they don’t pay it, I get to take the assets, sell them and pay you [the taxpayer] back.” Late last year, he delivered on that promise and took control of the city’s assets and most of its decision-making power.

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Atlantic City residents, activists file petitions for vote on sale of MUA
Source: Erin Serpico, Press of Atlantic City, June 14, 2017

Residents and activists crowded City Hall’s lobby Wednesday afternoon to illustrate the support they’ve gathered against the state takeover. With signs such as “Water is a human right” and “Our water, our voice,” about 20 people walked into the city Clerk’s Office to deliver 2,400 signatures — 1,200 were required — on a petition aiming to force a vote on the sale of the Municipal Utilities Authority.

Standing Up for Atlantic City: “Water Rights Are Civil Rights”
Source: Food and Water Watch, April 21, 2017

NAACP president and CEO Cornell Brooks came to Atlantic City on April 20 for the public launch of a campaign to prevent the privatization of the city’s public water system.  Brooks spoke in support of the campaign to protect the civil rights of city residents as a result of last year’s takeover law, and tied it to his group’s advocacy for water justice in Flint, Michigan. “Water rights are civil rights, and civil rights are human rights,” he told the audience. … In addition to many Atlantic City community groups and neighborhood associations, the AC Citizens Against the State Takeover campaign has been endorsed by statewide organizations like the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and the New Jersey National Organization for Women, labor unions like AFSCME, AFL-CIO and the Communication Workers of America, as well as national groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights and Color of Change. …

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Niles deciding whether to outsource income tax collection

Source: Stan Boney, WKBN, July 14, 2017
 
It appears Niles will have a five-year plan — which includes outsourcing income tax collection to an agency outside of the city — to get out of fiscal emergency. But not everyone agrees with it.  The plan would replace the Niles Income Tax Department with the Regional Income Tax Agency, known as RITA. … Bob Ward, president of the AFSCME Local 506 — a union representing the income tax workers, said he’s not in agreement with it.  He showed WKBN a grievance from 2016 — which the union won — preventing RITA from taking over.  Ward said they’ll file another grievance if need be. …

Privatization Is Changing America’s Relationship With Its Physical Stuff

Source: Brian Alexander, The Atlantic, July 12, 2017
 
… As vague as Trump’s pronouncements have been on the matter, it is clear that the general thrust behind the promised building-and-repair push involves using federal dollars as up-front investment to entice private enterprises to provide most of the financing. While Democrats announced their opposition, the general idea of increased privatization of infrastructure has had a bipartisan cast. President Obama supported a plan to create an “infrastructure bank” that would help finance so-called public-private partnerships (known, for their alliteration, as P3s), but that idea fizzled under the glare of Republican opposition. He also floated the idea of selling off the Tennessee Valley Authority. …

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Selling Back To The Public What It Already Owned: ‘Public-Private Partnership’ Shark Bait
Source: Mercedes Schneider, Huffington Post, June 12, 2017
 
Today, I read two articles centered on this idea, both of which concerned Vice President Mike Pence – and one that concerned Pence’s role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  One article also included a sprinkling of US secretary of [privatized] education, Betsy DeVos.  A major goal of corporate education reform is to deliver public education to private entities (corporations, or even nonprofits, but don’t think that an entity termed “nonprofit” cannot be a handsome money dispenser for those running the nonprofit and doling out contracts). However, the extreme-right-Republican aim does not end with public education but with delivering the operation of the entire American infrastructure to private entities.  In the end, what this entails is having private corporations front money to state and local governments in order to lease back to the public what the public already owns.

How President Trump Might Carry The Torch Of Privatization
Source: Here & Now, WBUR, May 8, 2017

… Now President Trump is poised to continue privatization and private contracting in all kinds of industries, from education to incarceration. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson looks at the history and politics of privatization with Donald Cohen and Shahrzad Habibi of the group In The Public Interest. …

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Feds stop requiring bi-weekly Kansas reports on Medicaid

Source: Associated Press, July 12, 2017
 
Federal officials are no longer requiring Kansas to file bi-weekly reports on a large backlog of applicants for the state’s privatized Medicaid program.  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment was notified last week by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that the state can discontinue the reports it has been sending since early 2006. At the time, Kansas had more than 7,000 backlogged applications that had been pending for more than 45 days for its Medicaid program, called KanCare. …

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Kansas House fails to override Brownback Medicaid expansion veto
Source: Hunter Woodall, Kansas City Star, April 3, 2017
 
The Kansas House failed by a narrow margin Monday to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill that would expand Medicaid to thousands of low-income Kansans.  Lawmakers voted 81-44 to override the governor’s veto, three shy of the total needed to pass the bill without his support.  That effectively ends the Medicaid expansion push in Kansas after it passed out of both chambers with Republican and Democratic support earlier this year. … The legislation vetoed by Brownback would have expanded KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, to roughly 150,000 people in the state. …

Brownback Vetoes Medicaid Expansion in Kansas
Source: Russell Berman, The Atlantic, March 30, 2017

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas on Thursday vetoed legislation expanding Medicaid passed with Republican majorities in the state’s House and Senate. Supporters of the bill are likely a few votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override Brownback’s veto. The move was expected, since Brownback has opposed expanding Medicaid for years. But the expansion effort could find new life if the governor leaves office before his term ends next year; President Trump is reportedly considering an appointment for Brownback as U.N. ambassador for food agriculture, a posting that would take the one-time presidential candidate from Topeka to Rome. …

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Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Isn’t Much of a Plan

Source: Michael Granof and Martin Luby, Fortune, July 12, 2017

President Donald Trump hasn’t fully outlined his prescription for making American infrastructure great again, but he has called for a major dose of public-private partnerships—also known as P3s. These P3s, he promises, provide “better procurement methods, market discipline and a long-term focus on maintaining assets .” That’s true enough in some cases, but P3s are no cure-all for every public project. Despite the hype, the public-private approach does not provide new funding sources to communities, nor does it work for many types of public projects. …

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World Offers Cautionary Tale for Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
Source:Peter S. Goodman, New York Times, June 16, 2017
 
The rest of the planet bears a warning for President Trump’s plan to lean heavily on private business in conjuring a trillion dollars’ worth  of American infrastructure: Handing profit-making companies responsibility for public works can produce trouble.  In India, politically connected firms have captured contracts on the strength of relationships with officialdom, yielding defective engineering at bloated prices. When Britain handed control to private companies to upgrade London’s subway system more than a decade ago, the result was substandard, budget-busting work, prompting the government to step back in. Canada has suffered a string of excessive costs on public projects funneled through the private sector, like a landmark bridge in Vancouver and hospitals in Ontario. …

Editorial: Public Works, Private Benefit
Source: New York Times, June 9, 2017
 
President Trump’s infrastructure plan is turning out to be a mirage. He had talked about a $1 trillion, 10-year effort. But the White House now proposes allocating only $200 billion, which would come from cutting aid to states and localities and giving it to Wall Street investors as tax credits, which it hopes will attract $800 billion in investment for big projects that would turn a profit through tolls and user fees. … But most of the nation’s unmet infrastructure needs involve smaller projects to operate, maintain and upgrade — not only highways, but also water, sewer and other systems that are of no interest to private investors.

Donald Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Faces an Urban-Rural Divide in Congress
Source: Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2017
 
President Donald Trump’s plan to tap the private sector to rebuild $1 trillion worth of roads, bridges and rails has encountered an early problem: geography.  The administration says it will rely on private investors to supply the vast majority of cash to support a decadelong infrastructure rebuilding effort. But members of Congress from rural areas are wary.  That is because private investors are looking for infrastructure projects that throw off steady streams of revenue, from which they derive their profits, and those tend to be found near population centers. … Support from Republicans, many who represent rural areas, will be crucial in getting a large infrastructure package through the GOP-led Congress, since many Democrats have said they would oppose efforts to rely on tolls, rather than federal aid, to pay for building projects.

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