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:
The problems are well documented. Northrop Grumman botched the upgrade to New York City’s 911 systems while billing the city $300,000 to $430,000 annually for each of their 137 consultants. A $132 million dollar contract to upgrade phones and Internet services for municipal agencies in Orange County, California is already $13 million over budget while municipal employees report repeated outages and failed solutions from the contractor, Xerox. And who can forget all those failed Obamacare exchange websites brought to us by mega-information technology contractors such as CGI and Oracle?
For too long, local and state governments have turned over control of their critical digital infrastructure to companies claiming they could do the work cheaper and faster than public employees. But after the last few years of failures, cost overruns, and plain old shoddy work, local leaders are finally realizing that in this digital age,