Ex Wayne Co. CFO’s ties to developers warrant probe, commissioners say

Source: Ross Jones, WXYZ, August 11, 2017

The sale of a Wayne County building to developers with ties to the county’s former CFO has prompted calls for an investigation by Wayne County’s prosecutor.  County Executive Warren Evans insists the CFO, Tony Saunders, played no role in the sale that and no rules were broken. … Also this week, Denis Martin, the president of AFSCME Local 1862, sent a letter to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, asking that her office of Fraud and Corruption Investigation Unit dig into the deal.  While the deal was being vetted by the county commission, analysts noted several red flags even before they were aware of Saunders’ connection to the buyers. …

Report: Gov. Henry McMaster considering Santee Cooper sale to help pay for nuclear project

Source: David Wren, The Post and Courier, August 8, 2017

Gov. Henry McMaster is reportedly considering selling state-owned electric utility Santee Cooper as a way to pay for at least one of two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that McMaster is “pursuing several options” to raise the money needed to finish the project, which Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas abandoned last week in the face of rising costs and the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse Electric. …

Congress must continue to block Trump plan to sell BPA

Source: Union-Bulletin Editorial Board, August 8, 2017

Late last month the U.S. House Budget Committee approved a budget resolution that rejects privatizing the transmission assets of the Bonneville Power Administration proposed by the Trump administration. A great move. The sooner this lousy proposal is dead the better it will be for Pacific Northwest residents who pay power bills — pretty much all of us. … President Donald Trump is calling for turning over the transmission network of power lines and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of hydropower from the Columbia and Snake rivers’ dams, to private companies. As Trump sees it, this would lower costs to taxpayers and improve efficiency. But in reality it would result in far higher rates for consumers. And putting the high-voltage grid in the hands of private investors — perhaps foreign investors — would create national security concerns. …

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Down the Mighty Columbia River, Where a Power Struggle Looms
Source: Kirk Johnson, New York Times, July 28, 2017

To ride down the Columbia River as the John Day Dam’s wall of concrete slowly fills the view from a tugboat is to see what the country’s largest network of energy-producing dams created through five decades of 20th-century ambition, investment and hubris. … Now, the Trump administration has proposed rethinking the entire system, with a plan to sell the transmission network of wires and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of the Columbia basin’s output, to private buyers. The idea is part of a package of proposals that would transform much of the infrastructure in the United States to a mixture of public and private partnerships, lowering costs to taxpayers and improving efficiency, administration officials said. Assets of two other big public power operators, based in Colorado and Oklahoma, would be sold, too, if Congress approves the measure.

Debates about government and its role in land and environmental policy are always highly charged. But perhaps nowhere could the proposed changes have a more significant impact than along the great river of the West — fourth largest by volume in North America, more than 10 times that of the Hudson. Privatization would transform a government service that requires equal standards across a vast territory — from large cities to tiny hamlets — into a private operation seeking maximum returns to investors. …

Indiana bond sale to complete P3 takeover financing

Source: Nora Colomer, Bond Buyer, August 21, 2017 (subscription required)
 
The Indiana Finance Authority will price $180 million of highway revenue refunding bonds Wednesday to complete the financing piece of its takeover of a troubled public private partnership highway project.  The bonds will take out $210.7 million of bond anticipation notes issued by the IFA last week to redeem $246 million of private activity bonds as part of settlement agreements that terminate its contractual relationship with I-69 Development Partners LLC and put direct control of the I-69 Section 5 project under the Indiana Department of Transportation. …

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Indiana Highway Gives ‘Black Eye’ to Private Investment in Infrastructure 
Source: Cameron McWhirter, Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2017

At a time when Washington is promoting private investment in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, a 21-mile stretch of highway in Indiana provides what critics say is a cautionary tale.  The project, a partnership between the state and private investors, was signed by Vice President Mike Pence in 2014 when he was the state’s governor. It is two years behind schedule and only 60% built. The state is in the process of taking it over and will have to issue debt to finish it. …

If Pence Shapes Trump’s Infrastructure Plan, Who Would Profit? Who Would Pay?
Source: Lydia O’Neal and David Sirota, International Business Times, August 9, 2017
 
President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure may be unprecedented in its size and ambition — but it promotes a controversial model championed by Vice President Mike Pence in his home state of Indiana. The Hoosier flavor is hardly surprising: After his gubernatorial experience with road privatization, Pence has been a public face of the White House initiative, and executives from financial firms that helped privatize Indiana’s roads are now the Trump administration officials sculpting the details of the national plan.  As that federal proposal now moves forward, Indiana’s experience with infrastructure privatization has become a political Rorschach test. Pence and his allies are extolling Indiana’s record selling control of major roads to private firms as an ideal model, arguing that such public-private partnerships prompted corporations to invest money in Indiana infrastructure that taxpayers would otherwise have had to sponsor. …

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With New P3, Delaware Partially Privatizes Economic Development

Source: Governing, August 16, 2017
 
Delaware’s economic development efforts are about to undergo a major transformation.  Gov. John Carney signed a bill Monday that replaces the Delaware Economic Development Office with a public-private partnership partially run by some of the state’s largest companies.  “This is a starting point,” Carney said. “The hard work starts now and that’s working together in partnership … to market our state more aggressively and think out of the box about how to develop our entrepreneurial economy.”  Tentatively called the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the new nonprofit will be responsible for recruiting new employers to the state, supporting the state’s nascent startup community and investing in workforce development programs. …

Harris County Nixes Private Prisons

Source: Allison Lee, Houston Public Media, August 1, 2017

Private prisons usually get a bad wrap from advocates, for a lack of oversight. But, that wasn’t main reason behind Sheriff Ed Gonzalez shifting the department away from private prisons. … “Within three months, we were able to move everybody back in house,” Gonzalez said. … According to the Harris County Sheriff’s office, the department spent $4.5 million on outsourced inmates last fiscal year. This fiscal year, they’re projecting to spend just under $300,000 (for what’s been spent before the transition). … He says there are also other benefits to bringing inmates back in-house. “We have more control of what we’re doing. You know, the medical records, things like that,” Gonzalez said. Another benefit? Loved ones can visit inmates, without having to travel to other municipalities or cities.

Pennsylvania municipalities and utilities benefit from privatization, says Moody’s

Source: Paul Burton, Bond Buyer, August 15, 2017 (subscription required)
 
Pennsylvania municipalities and regulated investor-owned utilities will benefit from legislation removing hurdles for local governments to sell water and wastewater systems, Moody’s Investors Service said.  Moody’s in a report Tuesday projected more privatizations. Municipalities within the commonwealth Pennsylvania see utility sales as a way to cope with financial distress and sidestep maintenance and compliance costs.  The report examined the $195 million sale of the Scranton wastewater system and the pending $162 million sale of the McKeesport wastewater system outside Pittsburgh to the Pennsylvania-American Water Company. Regulators must still approve the latter. …

Students Who Took Private Loans Through Corinthian Colleges Eligible for Relief

Source: Melissa Korn, Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2017
 
Former Corinthian Colleges Inc. students who took out 46,000 private loans through the now-defunct school will be eligible for $192 million in loan relief, based on a settlement announced Thursday by 13 state attorneys general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The settlement is subject to approval by a federal court in Oregon that is overseeing the receivership of the investment firm that owned the loans, Aequitas Capital Management LLC.  Roughly 41,000 students took out what Corinthian called Genesis private loans, coordinated through Aequitas’s Campus Student Funding affiliate. …

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Corinthian Colleges Loses Federal Lawsuit As Education Department Faces Reckoning
Source: Shahien Nasiripour, Huffington Post, October 28, 2015

Defunct for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges Inc. violated federal law by using false job placement rates to deceive 115,111 former students into taking out student loans, a federal district court judge ruled on Tuesday.  In a lawsuit brought last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleged that Corinthian duped prospective students into enrolling and taking out loans by falsely advertising future job prospects. The company, which declared bankruptcy in May, operated for-profit schools under the Everest, Heald and Wyotech brands and had previously denied wrongdoing. The ruling by Judge Gary Feinerman in Chicago could force the Department of Education to forgive the former students’ federal student debt, thanks to a provision in federal law that gives student debtors the right to apply for total debt forgiveness if schools mislead them into taking out federal student loans. Former Corinthian students have taken out nearly $4 billion in loans from the Education Department over the last five years.

Corinthian Colleges Secretly Funded D.C. Think Tanks, Dark Money Election Efforts
Source: Lee Fang, The Intercept, May 4, 2015

….The filing doesn’t list amounts, but shows that Corinthian made payments to Crossroads G.P.S., a group co-founded by Karl Rove that has raised over $300 million to elect Republican members of Congress through campaign advertising. Crossroads G.P.S., a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, does not disclose any of its donors…. APCO Worldwide, a lobbying firm, is among the Corinthian creditors, though the firm never registered to represent Corinthian under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The listing reveals a number of payments to influential D.C. groups that have battled regulations on the for-profit college industry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is listed multiple times as a Corinthian creditor. The Chamber has run campaign advertisements on behalf of opponents of the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” regulation, which would measure the performance of vocational programs. The Chamber made defeating the rules a top priority. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit that helps corporate interests draft model legislation, is listed as a creditor. As Republic Report reported, although for-profit colleges are far more expensive for programs offered by community colleges and other public institutions, ALEC drafted a resolution calling for state officials to “recognize the value of for-profit providers.” Another gainful employment regulation opponent, the American Enterprise Institute, is listed as a Corinthian creditor. AEI scholars have repeatedly attacked the rules, calling them an example of the Obama administration’s “crusade against for-profit colleges.” Last October, Andrew Kelly, AEI’s resident scholar on higher education reform, specifically defended Corinthian and criticized the “Obama administration’s bloodlust for such schools.”….

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Nuclear Negligence

Source: Center for Public Integrity, August 1, 2017

Nuclear Negligence examines safety weaknesses at U.S. nuclear weapon sites operated by corporate contractors. The Center’s probe, based on contractor and government reports and officials involved in bomb-related work, revealed unpublicized accidents at nuclear weapons facilities, including some that caused avoidable radiation exposures. It also discovered that the penalties imposed by the government for these errors were typically small, relative to the tens of millions of dollars the NNSA gives to each of the contractors annually in pure profit.

  1. A near-disaster at a federal nuclear weapons laboratory takes a hidden toll on America’s arsenal: Repeated safety lapses hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s work on the cores of U.S. nuclear warheads
  2. Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production: A facility that handles the cores of U.S. nuclear weapons has been mostly closed since 2013 over its inability to control worker safety risks
  3. Light penalties and lax oversight encourage weak safety culture at nuclear weapons labs: Explosions, fires, and radioactive exposures are among the workplace hazards that fail to make a serious dent in private contractor profits
  4. More than 30 nuclear experts inhale uranium after radiation alarms at a weapons site are switched off: Most were not told about it until months later, and other mishaps at the Nevada nuclear test site followed
  5. Repeated radiation warnings go unheeded at sensitive Idaho nuclear plant: The inhalation of plutonium by 16 workers is preceded and followed by other contamination incidents but the private contractor in charge suffers only a light penalty
  6. Nuclear weapons contractors repeatedly violate shipping rules for dangerous materials: Los Alamos laboratory’s recent mistakes in shipping plutonium were among dozens of incidents involving mislabeled or wrongly shipped materials associated with the nuclear weapons program

Arkansas seeks bids for privatization of juvenile centers

Source: Tafi Mukunyadzi, Associated Press, August 14, 2017
 
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday that the state will seek bids from the private sector to take over operations of seven juvenile detention centers in Arkansas.  Hutchinson said the Arkansas Department of Human Services recommended soliciting a private operator, and that bids were likely to go out in December. The winning bid is expected to be announced in March, and the facilities would be taken over in July, the governor said. …