I don’t know about you, but I love public parks. City parks for hiking, little league, and summer concerts. State parks for camping. National parks like the Grand Canyon to experience the awe of nature. Parks are some of our most precious public assets.
But only if they remain public. This week, candidates in Kentucky’s gubernatorial election suggested that the state could privatize parks to raise revenue. That’s a misguided solution to the wrong problem: the state’s failure to invest enough in essential public assets. Advocates of privatization say the private sector will attract more tourists. But that would jeopardize the central mission of public parks to provide affordable access to nature and recreation. Parks managed by companies, like other private assets, will need to generate profit—funds that should be spent on maintaining and improving them.
The citizens of Kentucky aren’t alone. To manage the 14 million acres of state park lands in the U.S.,
As lobbyists and state legislators gathered at San Diego’s Grand Hyatt resort last week for the three-day annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the delegates seemed to barely glance at the several dozen exhibitor tables that made up a sort of carnival sideshow of right-wing groups outside the hotel’s second-floor warren of meeting rooms.
Convention attendees had more pressing concerns. Namely, turning this year’s corporate wish list into the infamous boilerplate bills known as “model laws” that would aspire to undermine things like health and environmental standards, worker rights, campaign-spending limits and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) across the 50 states.
Many of the exhibitor booths were occupied by familiar ALEC friends, such as the collection of extreme-right think tanks known as the State Policy Network,
Earlier this month, in yet another win for local control, leaders in one central Florida county rejected a proposal from a for-profit library management company to take over their public library. The company, Library Systems & Services (LSSI), operates at least 80 public libraries across the country, but Marion County joins a growing list of municipalities that realized that LSSI’s claim to do more with less while still making a profit was a greater fiction than even Stephen King’s best stories.
In 2010, the chief executive of LSSI admitted to the New York Times that the company saves money by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Cutting overhead” can mean fewer services and reduced hours. Privatized libraries make up for less professional staff by depending on unpaid volunteers and automation. Of course, when outsourcing relies on cutbacks in wages and benefits to realize savings,
The town of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, is a former steel mill town full of struggling residents. With a per capita income of $14,079, Coatesville is situated in wealthy Chester County, but it has struggled amid a declining population and lack of job opportunities. Missoula, Montana, on the other hand, was once a thriving lumber town. Its per capita income of $17,166 means it’s slightly wealthier than Coatesville, and the University of Montana and two hospitals are major employers for the city.
Two thousand, three hundred miles separate Coatesville from Missoula, but the two towns have more in common than you might think. One important similarity? Their ongoing struggles with private, for-profit water companies, like too many cities around the U.S.
Coatesville officials sold the public water utility in 2001, hoping to use the one-time cash infusion to spark an urban renaissance while the privately-run PAWC promised to invest in desperately needed modernization and maintenance.
By now, you have probably heard about the riot at the for-profit Kingman Prison in Arizona. Days of unrest at the prison, run by the privately-held Management Training Corporation, left 15 wounded and forced nearly 1,000 incarcerated people to be transferred to other facilities. The same facility also suffered from a major riot in 2010. Similarly, people detained at an MTC-run camp in Texas names Willacy rioted earlier this year, forcing that facility to close completely.
The Kingman riots are focusing renewed attention on the Arizona legislature’s long, cozy relationship with the private prison industry. The repeated failings of for-profit prison operators have led Arizonans and the editorial board for the state’s largest paper to ask some big questions: