Two weeks in, Cedar Haven strikers are prepared for Christmas

Source: Daniel Walmer, Lebanon Daily News, November 3, 2017

A labor dispute at Cedar Haven shows no signs of abating two weeks after nurses went on strike. If you need proof, consider this: AFSCME Local 2732 President Penny Kleinfelter has placed an artificial Christmas tree along the Fifth Avenue picket line in preparation for the holiday season. Kleinfelter said she isn’t trying to send a message – she’s just decorating, since she usually puts up her Christmas tree at home at the beginning of November. But she hopes Cedar Haven ownership understands the strikers are “in it for the long haul.” … Some union members have applied for unemployment compensation, and the union is defending their claim on the basis that they went on strike to protest an unfair labor practice, said AFSCME council director Steve Mullen. The union has maintained that owner Stone Barn Holdings bargained in bad faith by implementing a new contract even though it was voted down by union members and while negotiations were still ongoing. …

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No end in sight as rally marks one week of Cedar Haven strike
Source: Daniel Walmer, Lebanon Daily News, October 27, 2017

Employees from other local unions joined Cedar Haven employees Friday for a rally to mark one week since the beginning of a nurses strike that has no sign of ending soon. Steve Mullen, council director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said there has been not yet been any movement by Cedar Haven ownership that would lead to a conclusion of the strike. “We reached out to them and asked them if they wanted to sit down and talk with us, and they said only if we’re willing to take (the contract) they’ve already given us,” Mullen said. Hundreds of protesters lined both sides of 5th Avenue at noon Friday, chanting “because we care,” and encouraging cars to honk their horns in solidarity. The rally featured heavy hitters like Elissa McBride, international secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, and Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. …

“It sucks in there”: Residents on conditions at Cedar Haven as strike continues
Source: Daniel Walmer, WITF, October 25, 2017

Cedar Haven residents expressed frustration Wednesday with the quality of care they are receiving as the nurses strike at the facility entered its sixth day. Marion Weiant has never had cause to complain about the quality of nursing care at Cedar Haven – until now, she said. Since the strike began, Weiant, a three-year resident at Cedar Haven, said she is often not properly wiped after being changed, causing her concern about getting sores. Nurses also haven’t gotten her out of bed until 11:30 a.m., more than two hours later than normal, she said. … The nursing home is currently being staffed with nurses from U.S. Nursing Corporation. Richard Boyer, another resident, said the temporary nurses “seem nice enough,” but “it’s not the same as the regular crew.” … The three residents were holding signs while attending the picket line in support of the nurses Wednesday afternoon. The nurses are protesting a contract implemented by Cedar Haven owner Stone Barn Holdings that reduces paid time off and substantially increases employee contributions to their health insurance. … To this point, Cedar Haven owner Chas Blalack has not agreed to sit down for additional negotiations, so the strike is expected to continue, said Steve Mullen, council director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. …

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The “Amazon Amendment” Would Effectively Hand Government Purchasing Power Over to Amazon

Source: David Dayen, The Intercept, November 2, 2017

… Instead of getting yelled at by lawmakers, Amazon is on the verge of winning a multibillion-dollar advantage over retail rivals by taking over large swaths of federal procurement. Language buried in Section 801 of the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is being hashed out in a conference committee with the Senate, would move Defense Department purchases of commercial off-the-shelf products to “online marketplaces.” Theoretically, that means any website that offers an array of options for paper clips or office furniture; in reality that signals likely dominance for Amazon Business, the company’s commercial sales platform. Section 801 stipulates that the program should be designed “to enable Government-wide use of such marketplaces.” Scale, then, is key. Over time, this change would give platforms like Amazon access to all $53 billion in federal government commercial item purchases.

… “It seems like Amazon wrote it,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has written critical reports about Amazon in the past. “It will accelerate the transfer of more and more government spending to Amazon.” The online marketplace provision, which still has to get through a House-Senate conference, coincides with a significant ramp-up for Amazon Business, which only launched in 2015. … But federal procurement is the holy grail, the lucrative market to tap. Perhaps that’s why, for the head of Amazon Business’s public sector division, the company hired Anne Rung, who ran the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy until fall 2016. This made Rung effectively the top purchasing officer in the United States. … Indeed, Section 801 has been informally dubbed the “Amazon amendment,” and experts believe only one or two companies would have the wherewithal to participate. That means monopoly or duopoly control of $53 billion in federal purchasing. The online marketplaces, which can be given no-bid contracts, explicitly eliminate the need for government procurement officers to seek out competitive bids for commercial products. …

Public Private Partnerships (P3s) in Transportation

Source: William J. Mallett, Congressional Research Service, November 2, 2017

Public private partnerships (P3s) in transportation are contractual relationships typically between a state or local government, who are the owners of most transportation infrastructure, and a private company. P3s provide a mechanism for greater private-sector participation in all phases of the development, operation, and financing of transportation projects. Although there are many different forms P3s can take, this report focuses on the two types of agreements that generate the most interest and discussion: (1) design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM); and (2) longterm lease. …

Read full report.

Incumbent Massena Town Supervisor issues last-minute debate challenge to Democratic opponent

Source: Abraham Kenmore, Watertown Daily Times, November 4, 2017
 
Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray issued a challenge late Thursday to his opponent for a debate, four days before the election. In an interview with the Times on Thursday, Mr. Gray, the Republican incumbent, said he was challenging his Democratic opponent, Councilman Steven D. O’Shau­ghnessy, to a debate tonight in the Town Hall. He then issued a press release late Thursday night specifying that he had reserved Room 30 for 7 p.m. at the Town Hall to take community questions. … Mr. Gray has accused Mr. O’Shaughnessy of striking a deal to keep the hospital under town control in exchange for the endorsement of the Civil Service Employees Association Local 887, which represents over 200 workers at the Massena Memorial Hospital and opposes privatization. Mr. O’Shaughnessy has denied any such deal, and said Mr. Gray raised similar accusations that council members with state pensions would be under the control of Albany. …

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Gray accuses O’Shaughnessy of opposing hospital privatization
Source:Abraham Kenmore, Watertown Daily Times, November 3, 2017
 
Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray issued a news release Monday questioning the endorsement of councilman Steven D. O’Shau­ghnessy, his Democratic opponent, by Civil Service Employees Association Local 887, which represents over 200 workers at the Massena Memorial Hospital. The CSEA has organized protests against the privatization of the hospital, which Mr. Gray says is necessary to keep the debt-ridden hospital open. …

Massena Memorial Hospital privatization process stalled until transfer agreement settled
Source: Andy Gardner, North Country Now, September 28, 2017
 
The Massena Memorial Hospital privatization process is at a standstill until the hospital and town can come to terms on an asset transfer agreement, the MMH CEO told the Board of Managers on Monday.  “We are still talking to the town and we hope to have a town proposal that we can discuss in the very near future,” MMH CEO Robert Wolleben told the board, adding that the proposal needs to “model the financial impact” privatization would have on the hospital.  “Everything is teed up and hopefully we can move pretty quickly,” he said. Talks with two larger health networks they may affiliate with can’t move until that part is done. …

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Letter: Privatizing library would be a mistake

Source: Patricia A. Martinelli, The Daily Journal, October 31, 2017

In recent years, privatization of government services has seeped into just about every aspect of daily life. Most recently, I was saddened to learn that Vineland Public Library is in danger of becoming privatized by an out-of-state company called Library Systems & Services, which claimed that it would be able to save the city of Vineland about $350,000 a year in operating costs. However, during the September meeting of the library’s board of trustees, the representatives of LS&S were unable to clearly state exactly how they would produce those savings. Unfortunately, despite the fact that several hundred local residents turned out for that meeting to protest the company’s proposal, it seems that the plan is still under consideration by city officials. … I urge everyone who cares at all about the future of Vineland’s treasured library to attend the Nov. 16 meeting of the library board of trustees to express your concerns. …

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Vineland library takeover faces strong opposition
Source: Anthony V. Coppola, The Daily Journal, September 29, 2017

Supporters of the Vineland Public Library left no doubt at Thursday night’s board meeting how they feel about a potential outsourcing of the facility’s operations. Hundreds of people packed the community event room at the East Landis Avenue library to hear a presentation from Library Systems & Services — a Maryland-based management company that says it can save the Vineland library $350,000 a year in its budget. … The library board welcomed LS&S to its board meeting at the request of Vineland City Council. … Frager’s pitch seemed to fall on deaf ears, as one by one, audience members took the microphone largely in strong opposition of LS&S involvement. The board, while receptive to LS&S, also hinted at cynicism over the company’s claims. Board President Victor Druziako was left still wanting specifics on how LS&S would arrive at the $350,000 savings. …

Editorial: Improve foster care

Source: The Register-Guard, October 27, 2017

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch have teamed up in support of a bill to better protect children in foster care. This bill is both badly needed and long overdue. The Senate Finance committee launched an investigation in April 2015 into the increasing practice of states giving the responsibility for some of their most vulnerable children over to private, for-profit companies. … Governors in 33 states responded to the committee’s request for information about the consequences of privatizing foster care, as did one of the largest providers in the country, the MENTOR Network. The results of the two-year investigation were both unsettling and, sadly, unsurprising.

The Senate found there were flaws in data collection and oversight when it came to for-profit foster care, at both the state and federal levels. Procedures set up by states to monitor providers’ performance and outcomes weren’t followed. Children under the authority of the state who received services from private, for-profit agencies were abused, neglected and denied services. Profits were prioritized over children’s well-being. High staff turnover sometimes made it impossible to monitor how children were doing, and foster parents with questionable backgrounds were given licenses to care for children, who were inadequately monitored by the state. …

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Senate Finds 86 Children Died In Care Of Giant For-Profit Foster Care Firm, Citing BuzzFeed News
Source: Aram Roston and Jeremy Singer-Vine, Buzzfeed News, October 18, 2017

At least 86 children died in a 10-year period while in the custody of a giant for-profit foster care company, according to an investigation by the US Senate Committee on Finance. In only 13 of those deaths did the company, The Mentor Network, conduct an internal investigation, the committee found. The Senate committee said the company “falsely” claimed that its child death rate was in line with the fatality rates in the overall foster care system.

The Senate probe started in part because of a series by BuzzFeed News that profiled problems at the company, which was the largest for-profit foster care provider in the country. In one case a 2-year-old girl who was placed at a home run by Mentor was murdered by her foster mother. In another case, a series of boys were sexually abused by a Mentor foster father, whom Mentor paid as a foster parent for years despite a series of red flags. He had requested that he be sent boys who were “male, white, any age.” Though Mentor denied the claim, employees told BuzzFeed News that the pursuit of profits sometimes took priority over child welfare. (The company is owned by Civitas Solutions, Inc., which recorded $1.4 billion in revenue last year and trades on the New York Stock Exchange.)

… As a result of the committee’s investigation, the chairman, Orrin Hatch, and its ranking member, Ron Wyden, introduced legislation Monday to require states to disclose the contractors they use in privatized foster care, and to report to the federal government how those contractors perform. …

The Brief Life and Private Death of Alexandria Hill
Source: Brian Joseph, Mother Jones, February 26, 2015

When the government took her from her family, it outsourced her safety to a for-profit corporation. Nine months later she was dead…..

….What happened in Rockdale that night would be the subject of a weeklong trial in the fall of 2014, focusing on the care of Alexandria. But it also opened a window into the vast and opaque world of private foster care agencies—for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that are increasingly taking on the role of monitoring the nation’s most vulnerable children. The agency involved in Small’s case was the Lone Star branch of the Mentor Network, a $1.2 billion company headquartered in Boston that specializes in finding caretakers, or “mentors,” for a range of populations, from adults with brain injuries to foster children. With 4,000 children in its care in 14 states, Mentor is one of the largest players in the business of private foster care, a fragmented industry of mostly local and regional providers that collect hundreds of millions in tax dollars annually while receiving little scrutiny from government authorities. Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe—and duck responsibility when something goes wrong…..

….Mentor and other private foster care agencies say they are committed to children’s well-being, and that nothing can prevent the occasional tragic incident. But in my investigation, I found evidence of widespread problems in the industry—failed monitoring, missed warning signs, and, in some cases, horrific abuse. In Los Angeles, a two-year-old girl was beaten to death by her foster mother, who was cleared by a private agency despite a criminal record and seven prior child abuse and neglect complaints filed against her. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, prosecutors alleged that foster parents screened by a private agency beat their foster son so badly that he suffered brain damage and went blind. (A grand jury refused to return an indictment in the case.) In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a foster father vetted by a private agency induced his 16-year-old foster daughter to have sex with him and a neighbor. In Riverview, Florida, a 10-year-old girl with autism drowned in a pond behind a foster home. The private agency that inspected the home had previously identified the pond as a safety hazard but had not required a fence. In Duluth, Minnesota, a private agency failed to discover that a foster mother’s adult son had moved back into her home. The son, who had a criminal record for burglary that would have disqualified him from being around foster children, went on to sexually abuse a 10-year-old foster girl. In Texas, at least nine children living in private agency homes died of abuse or neglect between 2011 and 2013…..

The water systems in these 3 towns are broken. Now corporations stand to make millions

Source: Michael Sol Warren, NJ.com, November 5, 2017

… After decades of neglecting their water and sewer systems, three New Jersey towns now find themselves in similarly unenviable positions: On Election Day, voters in High Bridge, Long Hill and West Milford will choose whether to sell the systems to private corporations and give up local control — or to borrow large amounts of money to make the repairs themselves. And no one seems especially happy with either choice. … The three largest of the companies in New Jersey — New Jersey American Water, Suez Water New Jersey and Aqua New Jersey — are all subsidiaries of larger publicly traded corporations; American Water Works, the parent company of New Jersey American Water, is worth more than $13 billion. But privatization is especially widespread here. According to a Washington Post article published last December, 43 percent of New Jersey water is privatized, the third most in the nation.

… Yet not everyone thinks water privatization is such a great idea — and some say that a recently passed law, the Water Quality Accountability Act, is only compelling more municipalities to go private. The law demands that water systems around the state be updated. But the cost of those updates is often too much for smaller municipalities to bear. … Smith and other opponents of privatization point to broken promises by the companies and argue selling a system is a short term fix that could lead to bigger problems in the long run. For one thing, that rate stability that the companies tout doesn’t always pan out. … Another wrinkle to privatization plans: Many municipalities end up with a lot less money than their water systems are actually worth. … And whereas public utilities are accountable to the taxpayers, private corporations are accountable to their shareholders — which leads to situations like the one in Camden, which contracted its water and sewer systems to Suez in 1999. … The heated arguments in High Bridge last week centered around the questions of whether local residents have been given the full picture of the issue as they head into polling stations on Election Day. Jane Karp and other opponents of privatization are angry that High Bridge borough councillors requested bids without first finding out how much their water system is worth. …

Pay for Success Feasibility Tool Kit

Source: Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, U.S. Department of Education, October 2017

The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. ED supports initiatives to help expand opportunities and improve education for students from early childhood to adulthood, particularly approaches that are based on evidence of potential or actual success. Pay for Success (PFS) can be used to support evidence-based approaches by leveraging private investment to address societal problems and challenges while typically using government funds to pay only when measurable, positive outcomes are attained. This tool kit is an introductory guide for state and local governments and other stakeholders interested in exploring the possibility of a PFS project for education or related societal issues. It provides information to support stakeholders in determining if PFS is a viable financing strategy for them; it lays out steps usually involved in conducting a feasibility study and highlights critical questions and important safeguards to consider in using PFS. The Appendix includes tools that may be useful for PFS projects, including definitions of terms used throughout the document. …

Full Pay for Success Feasibility Tool Kit.

Trump boosts disaster aid for Puerto Rico rebuild

Source: Roberta Rampton, Reuters, November 2, 2017
 
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday agreed to expand the use of disaster aid to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid and other infrastructure wrecked by Hurricane Maria, the White House said. In a unique agreement recognizing both the massive devastation on the island and its dire financial problems, aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for infrastructure projects will be released in a faster, more flexible way than is typical after disasters, a senior White House official told Reuters.  The plan, agreed to with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, will also provide for third-party advisers to estimate how much money is requires for big-ticket projects, and how it is spent – a provision aimed at protecting taxpayer dollars in what is expected to be a massive, long-term effort to rebuild the island. …

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Puerto Rico Lays Out Energy Future With Tesla, Privatization
Source: Jonathan Levin, Bloomberg, October 22, 2017

A Puerto Rican official who has been in talks with Tesla Inc. said the island is serious about transforming its energy infrastructure after it was leveled by Category 4 Hurricane Maria, despite questions about how such an overhaul would be funded.  Speaking in a telephone interview Sunday, Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Laboy said Puerto Rico’s government understands its skeptics: The island’s finances are shot and its electricity system is in tatters. But he said the U.S. territory has a historic opportunity to use federal funds to modernize an aging and weak power grid.  At the core of the argument is the government’s belief that funding related to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, can be used to build a new system, not just repair the old one, so that it won’t be susceptible to collapse when the next storm hits. Laboy said Governor Ricardo Rossello’s government is prepared to make its case. …

Puerto Rico taps public private partnerships to boost economy
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, October 19 2017

…The island government said Monday that it’s working on six public private partnership projects that would lead to $300 million to $400 million of investment in projects ranging from a hydroelectric dam to student housing.  Puerto Rico will seek requests for qualifications for three of the projects and it is already working with companies on the other three. If the projects go forward, they would boost an economy that has been struggling with long-term economic decline compounded by the impacts of two major hurricanes in the last two months….

Elon Musk Is Not the Hero Puerto Rico Needs
Source: Kate Aronoff, In These Times, October 11, 2017

… According to a tweet from the governor late last week, the two are now in talks about bringing renewable energy from Musk’s Tesla and SolarCity operations to the island, whose long-embattled public utility—the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)—was decimated by Hurricane Maria. … On the one hand, the talks can be seen as a positive development: More than 80 percent of the island remains without power, and the storm could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Puerto Rico to get back online and become a leader in the transition away from fossil fuels. But the budding friendship between Rossello and Musk is also taking place in the context of a massive attempt to privatize Puerto Rico’s electric utility. Musk’s companies could deliver tangible improvements to Puerto Rico’s grid, but they could also prime the pump for a corporate takeover of the United States’ largest public power provider, putting decisions like who gets power and how much it costs into the hands of corporate shareholders. …

Puerto Rico Faces Restart on Financial Plan After Maria
Source: Heather Gillers and Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2017

It took months to put together a financial overhaul plan for Puerto Rico. Now officials may have to start over following Hurricane Maria. The federal board supervising Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy plans to meet Friday and is likely to discuss possible changes to a commonwealth fiscal plan it approved in March, according to a person familiar with the matter. The conversations could affect the severity of write downs on Puerto Rico’s $73 billion in debt.

… Reconstructing Puerto Rico’s power grid may prove particularly costly because of financial difficulties at its struggling electric utility. … Congress is starting to debate how best to rebuild Prepa. Setting up a reliable power system will require expensive modernization using federal dollars. Prepa is a flashpoint in Puerto Rico’s financial crisis because power rates are a drag on family incomes and company budgets. The oversight board has said it wants to privatize power generation to lower costs and transition Prepa to a regulated utility model. Creditors are skeptical of privatization, concerned that by selling off assets Prepa would lose the revenue streams backing its debt. But raising power rates to repay creditors is politically toxic in Puerto Rico, where the cost of importing fuel from oil tankers has driven power prices higher than in any U.S. state but Hawaii. …

Puerto Rico’s bondholders worried after Hurricane Maria turns out lights
Source: Francine McKenna, MarketWatch, September 21, 2017

If Puerto Rico is without power for months after Hurricane Maria, as authorities now warn, many investors in the $9 billion of Puerto Rico’s outstanding electric utility bonds risk never seeing their money. … The plight of Prepa bondholders—Prepa is Puerto Rico’s main supplier of electricity—was grim even before Irma. … Prepa’s bonds, $9 billion worth, are revenue bonds whose funding stream is based on collecting customer fees. Even before Hurricane Maria knocked power out for good, bondholders were worried that Prepa would deliberately force some plants offline, jeopardizing the collateral, creating justification for a privatization plan that could leave current bondholders high and dry. Proponents argue that a brand new electric authority, free of debt, would be a huge boon to the Puerto Rican economy. …

Hurricane Irma Unleashes the Forces of Privatization in Puerto Rico
Source: Kate Aronoff, Angel Manuel Soto, and Averie Timm, The Intercept, September 12, 2017

For struggling governments around the world, privatizing utilities has come to be seen as a kind of get-rich-quick scheme, offering an upfront infusion of cash to underfunded municipalities. Given Prepa’s size and that of its debt — $9 billion — it has been a long-standing target for privatizers, even before Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act last year to help rein in Puerto Rico’s mounting debt crisis. The blackout following Irma just added fuel to the fire. Days before Irma hit, Rosselló emphasized that privatization is firmly on the table, telling the New York Times that Irma “can become an opportunity or another liability.” …

Irma Grazes Puerto Rico but Lays Bare an Infrastructure Problem
Source: Luis Ferré-Sadurní, New York Times, September 10, 2017

As government workers cleared roads obstructed by uprooted trees and repaired toppled electricity lines, residents of Puerto Rico felt some relief that the eye wall of Hurricane Irma had skirted the island on its recent rampage through the Caribbean.  But while the commonwealth had largely been spared the 185-mile-an-hour gusts that had flattened its smaller island neighbors, hundreds of residents still lost their homes, at least three people died and almost 70 percent of households were plunged into darkness. The storm knocked out Puerto Rico’s fragile power grid, exposing the island’s decrepit infrastructure and raising questions about its future viability amid a worsening economic crisis.

… How a commonwealth going through a decade-long recession will be able to pay for much-needed upgrades is the key question. One option is to turn to the private sector, local economists say. Private investments, Mr. Rosselló said, could be accelerated under a provision of a contentious new law called Promesa, which placed the island’s finances under the oversight of a federal board. The provision could expedite and facilitate the process for private investment in electric, highway and water projects. … But the idea of privatizing public utilities is a divisive one on the island. The electrical workers’ union fears that the government purposely let Prepa deteriorate over time to justify privatizing it. …

Puerto Rico wasn’t ready for Hurricane Irma. We couldn’t possibly be.
Source: Carla Minet, Washington Post, September 7, 2017

On the surface, Puerto Rico was as ready as it could be for Hurricane Irma. Government agencies and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló have been taking a proactive, hands-on approach. President Trump has declared a state of emergency, which will generate emergency funds from the federal government. Refugees from the northeastern corner of the island, where Irma’s Category 5 winds already reached Wednesday afternoon, were arriving in shelters. … But Irma — a storm the likes of which we haven’t seen here in decades — is heading for an island whose resources to truly prepare for an emergency are already in grave doubt. … Now Irma may be used as a new rationale for the strategy of privatizing the public service by the Fiscal Control Board, whose members have publicly declared support for selling off the utility. The agency announced that 44 percent of the population — 692,350 clients — were already without electricity service by Wednesday afternoon. …

Government labor strife is latest test for fractured Puerto Rico
Source: Nick Brown, Reuters, August 30, 2017

Puerto Rico’s already frail economy faces a fresh test this week, as the bankrupt U.S. territory’s financial overseers try to force a defiant governor to furlough public workers, the single biggest block of employees on the island. An escalating power struggle between the democratically elected Governor Ricardo Rossello and the federally appointed oversight panel culminated on Monday when the board sued Rossello, saying he had no authority to reject pension cuts and furloughs ordered by the board. The measures are set to begin Sept 1. A competing lawsuit from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents 12,000 Puerto Rican workers, argues the exact opposite – that the measures violate the U.S. Constitution, and should be halted. At least six unions are staging protests on Wednesday to oppose the austerity, featuring a midday march to the board’s San Juan offices. … Noting a Rossello initiative to privatize some public assets, Eiler said “the unions’ cooperation is imperative” for public-private partnerships. …

Hedge Fund Sues to Have Puerto Rico’s Bankruptcy Case Thrown Out
Source: Mary Williams Walsh, New York Times, August 7, 2017

A hedge fund sued on Monday to have Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy case thrown out, arguing that the federal oversight board guiding the island’s financial affairs was unconstitutionally established.  In a lawsuit filed in United States District Court in San Juan, the hedge fund, Aurelius Capital, cited the “appointments clause” of the United States Constitution, which calls for all principal officers of the federal government to be appointed by the president, and then confirmed by the Senate.  That did not happen when the seven members of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico were selected, Aurelius said in its motion to dismiss the bankruptcy-like proceedings. …

Puerto Rico Teachers’ Union-AFT Join Forces Amid Debt Woes
Source: Jaclyn Diaz, Daily Labor Report, August 4, 2017 (subscription required)

The economic devastation in Puerto Rico has pushed the American Federation of Teachers to lend a hand to the island’s educators. Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico will continue to represent the 40,000 plus Puerto Rican educators. It signed a three-year affiliation agreement with the 1.6 million-member AFT to help it combat the island’s economic challenges, the two unions announced Aug. 3. … AFT and AMPR will work together to fight austerity measures and privatization on the island, Randi Weingarten, AFT president, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 4. AFT will lend resources to help AMPR train teachers for the future and to bring in legal assistance to fight the fiscal plan adopted by the Puerto Rican government, she said. …

Is Congress’ plan to save Puerto Rico working?
Source: Edwin Melendez, San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 2017

A year ago, Congress cobbled together a plan to try to save Puerto Rico from its US$123 billion debt and pension crisis without costing American taxpayers a penny.  The law, signed by former President Barack Obama on June 30, 2016, effectively steered Puerto Rico into bankruptcy-like proceedings in federal court to prevent a massive default, while saddling the commmonwealth with an oversight board to ensure it put its fiscal house in order.  Though the vote was bipartisan, critics called it a “Band-Aid” that would do little to solve Puerto Rico’s core problems: unsustainable debt that has kept the country mired in recession for almost a dozen years. …

For Sale: Puerto Rico
Source: Heather Gillers, Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2017

Puerto Rico has no cash and can’t borrow money anymore. So it is looking to sell itself off in parts. The troubled U.S. territory is preparing to seek bids in coming months from private companies willing to operate or improve seaports, regional airports, water meters, student housing, traffic-fine collections, parking spaces and a passenger ferry, according to a government presentation reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The Bankers Behind Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis
Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, June 8, 2017

Puerto Rico’s economic crisis has now washed the burden of its colonial legacy onto Washington’s doorstep. Congress has been trying to contain the island’s ballooning debt under the hardline austerity program of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). But since the program is governed by a control board run by the same financiers responsible for driving the debt crisis in the first place, the island continues to sink into poverty while its creditors feast on the spoils.  To underscore how Puerto Rico’s revolving door of big finance and politics is underwriting the debt crisis, a report by the AFL-CIO and the community-labor coalition Committee for Better Banks (CBB) traces the career of the head of PROMESA, Carlos M. García, from his role as a head banker of Santander to his current political post overseeing the privatization and pillage of Puerto Rico’s anemic public assets.

Puerto Rico strikes second restructuring deal with bondholders
Source: Hazel Bradford, Pensions & Investments, May 15, 2017

Puerto Rico reached a restructuring agreement with bondholders invested in the commonwealth’s Government Development Bank, officials announced Monday in San Juan. … Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration said in that statement that GDB creditors “have agreed to substantial discounts to the principal,” but did not provide further details on the agreement, which calls for bondholders to exchange claims for one of three tranches of bonds issued by a new municipal entity. The new bonds will have varying principal amounts, interest rates, collateral priority, and other payment terms.  It is the second agreement reached with bondholders and Gov. Ricardo Rosello, following one announced April 6 with holders of bonds issued by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The PREPA agreement restructures $9 billion in debt by offering them 85 cents on the dollar, and giving PREPA more time to begin making payments. …

Puerto Rico board extends budget deadline by two weeks
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, May 9, 2017 (Subscription Required)

The Puerto Rico Oversight Board extended the deadline for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to submit a fiscal year 2018 budget by two weeks.  Board chairman José Carrión III told Rosselló that the board had originally set May 8 as the deadline for either the board approving the governor’s budget or notifying the governor of violations and providing a description of corrective actions. “We have received a working draft of the proposed budget and are reviewing the submission and its completeness,” Carrión wrote Monday. “The board will provide the governor an additional 14 days to amend and improve the submission before it approves it or identifies violations.” …

Puerto Rico unveils energy PPPs amid economic turmoil
Source: David Casallas, BNamericas, May 5, 2017

Puerto Rico’s embattled government released a list of priority project proposals for this year, among them energy sector initiatives that would be carried out through public-private partnerships (PPP). The projects envision natural gas use at power utility AEE’s residual fuel oil fired-plants Costa Sur (990MW) and Palo Seco (602MW) which would cost US$150mn-265mn and US$200mn-360mn, respectively. Information from the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority also reveals that AEE seeks partners to develop renewable energy projects, including photovoltaic and wind, for between US$100mn and US$700mn. …

Puerto Rico Declares a Form of Bankruptcy
Source: Mary Williams Walsh, New York Times, May 3, 2017

With its creditors at its heels and its coffers depleted, Puerto Rico sought what is essentially bankruptcy relief in federal court on Wednesday, the first time in history that an American state or territory had taken the extraordinary measure.  The action sent Puerto Rico, whose approximately $123 billion in debt and pension obligations far exceeds the $18 billion bankruptcy filed by Detroit in 2013, to uncharted ground.  While the court proceedings could eventually make the island solvent for the first time in decades, the more immediate repercussions will likely be grim: Government workers will forgo pension money, public health and infrastructure projects will go wanting, and the “brain drain” the island has been suffering as professionals move to the mainland could intensify. …

Puerto Rico faces bank closure, privatizations
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, April 28, 2017

Puerto Ricans will be facing a water rate increase, privatization of government operations and the closure of a bank that once oversaw the island’s debt transactions, officials said Friday as they worked on measures to offset an economic crisis.  Some of the changes were outlined in new fiscal plans presented to a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances. The plans for four heavily indebted Puerto Rico agencies will be amended in upcoming weeks, although officials noted that the water rate increase will start in January and that the Government Development Bank will be liquidated within a decade.  The board recently approved an overall fiscal plan for the central government that contains several austerity measures. …

Puerto Rico pushes to privatize operation of public services
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, April 20, 2017

Puerto Rico is ready to sign dozens of new deals to privatize the operation of public services as government funds dwindle amid a decade-long recession, the island’s governor told some 800 investors attending a two-day financial summit Thursday.  Gov. Ricardo Rossello said public-private partnerships could create up to 100,000 new jobs and generate some $5 billion in the next three years for a U.S. territory mired in economic crisis and its government facing a $70 billion public debt load that it is struggling to restructure.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders on Puerto Rico Fiscal Plan
Source: AFSCME Press Release, March 13, 2017

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued the following statement on the oversight board’s approval of a fiscal plan for Puerto Rico:  “The plan approved by the Oversight Board will have devastating consequences for the people of Puerto Rico, especially its most vulnerable citizens. The plan adopts an austerity approach that will slash services, cut pensions and create yet more economic hardship for Puerto Ricans. The winners are wealthy investors who stand to gain from the mass privatization of the services that remain. These actions are the foreseeable result of an anti-democratic law adopted by the last Congress. The people of Puerto Rico have been forgotten; we call on the federal government to act quickly to restore services and pensions.”

Board to Puerto Rico: Cut Pension System, Impose Furloughs
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, March 13, 2017

A federal control board on Monday said Puerto Rico’s government needs to cut its public pension system by 10 percent, furlough tens of thousands of its workers and eliminate Christmas bonuses if it cannot generate other types of savings amid a nearly decade-long recession. The seven-member board created by Congress last year to oversee the U.S. territory’s finances voted unanimously to add those measures to a 10-year fiscal plan presented by the island’s governor that the panel approved Monday. The measures will be implemented if the government fails to find other ways to cut spending and increase revenue. Board members said the spending cuts will be necessary so the government will have enough funds to pay for essential services such as education, health and public safety. … The plan drafted by the government and approved by the board also will cap some Medicaid benefits, effectively raise property taxes and scrap some infrastructure projects while possibly turning ferries, ports and parking lots over to private companies. It will freeze salaries until 2020, seeks to privatize the generation of power and increase motor vehicle license fees by 10 percent. …

Puerto Rico governor wants fewer austerity measures
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, March 1, 2017

Puerto Rico’s governor submitted an austerity plan made public on Wednesday that would cut deeply into the U.S. territory’s budget while avoiding some of the most painful measures recommended by a federal control board that is overseeing the island’s effort to confront a debt crisis that has led to repeated defaults. Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s plan would cap some Medicaid benefits, effectively raise property taxes and collect a tax on internet purchases. It would also scrap some infrastructure projects and could turn ferries, ports and parking lots over to private companies. But it would fall short of the board’s recommendation of a 30 percent cut in payroll costs and 10 percent reduction in the government pension system, which is on track to run out of money next year. …

How the Kochs are trying to shake up public schools, one state at a time

Source: Kimberly Hefling, Politico, October 30, 2017

With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.  One of the newest campaigns is the Libre Initiative, a grassroots drive targeting Hispanic families in 11 states so far, under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative and libertarian advocacy group. … The group has had some initial success — for instance, helping to thwart a moratorium on charter school expansion in New Mexico. But it’s also created bitter divisions in the Latino community and led to accusations the Kochs are trying to undermine public education — and even in some cases, to subvert the Democratic process.

… Despite such criticism, the group is hunkering down for the long haul in states it views as ripe for change even as it eyes new states for expansion. Lima says it’s on track to make contact with more than 100,000 Hispanic households this year on school choice. Besides Nevada and New Mexico, Libre is organizing in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Its recent efforts, with other Koch-backed groups, include:

  • A planned “six-figure” spend in Nevada on “deep canvassing” in Hispanic neighborhoods to build support for educational savings accounts, which enable families to use state tax dollars to pay for private school. …
  • A lawsuit brought by Americans for Prosperity, among others, aimed at stopping a 2018 Arizona referendum asking voters whether they want to keep a school choice law passed earlier this year. …
  • A “six-figure” Libre and Americans for Prosperity campaign in Colorado this summer to promote charter schools and education savings accounts and another ahead of a Nov. 7 school board race by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to push choice-friendly issues.
  • A seven-figure investment In Virginia’s gubernatorial race by Americans for Prosperity that includes a video criticizing Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, for his opposition to education savings accounts.
  • Mailings in Spanish and English supporting a Florida law that encourages charter schools in communities with low-performing schools. After Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed it into law, the state Democratic Party said he’d “declared war on our public schools.” …