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July 27, 2015

Congress moves agency by agency to cut rights of feds, limit their pay, facilitate their dismissal. Step by step, agency by agency, Congress is moving to facilitate the firing of federal employees, cut their workplace rights and limit their pay. Currently in the dock – workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Defense Department. . . . The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved on Wednesday a bill allowing the VA to revoke bonuses paid to staffers involved in that scandal. This would apply to employees who “contributed to the purposeful omission” of veterans on electronic wait lists and to supervisors who knew or “reasonably should have known” about the omissions. Employees would be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The independent Office of Special Council would have to give permission before whistleblowers could be fired or demoted. Washington Post

Republicans Want Private Debt Collectors To Replace IRS Agents. Senate Republicans want to replace IRS agents with private debt collection agencies, which are known to harass people for overdue credit card bills and student loan payments. . . Senate Democrats on Wednesday night fought off a GOP effort to pay for the highway funding with Social Security cuts, but the privatized debt collection maneuver remains in the bill. While privatization is popular with congressional Republicans, collection agencies have terrible reputations. They frequently run afoul of the law by illegally harassing or intimidating borrowers, and sometimes even family members of borrowers who are under no legal obligation to make good on their relatives’ debts. Collectors also often get in trouble with the government for tricking borrowers into ponying up payments they are not actually required to make. Huffington Post

NJ: Chris Christie Is Turning Tap Water Into a Private Commodity. In 2010, the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey, were asked to sell part of their water system for $80 million to New Jersey American Water, the largest private water utility company in the state. Despite the company’s best lobbying efforts—a $1 million spending spree that included an onslaught of advertisements, telephone calls, and door-to-door canvassers—the voters weren’t persuaded. They rejected the privatization attempt by nearly four-to-one at the ballot box. . . . In recent months, however, lawmakers in New Jersey have passed legislation that attempts to silence the voices of communities like Trenton. The Water Infrastructure Protection Act (WIPA), signed by Governor (and presidential candidate) Chris Christie in February, empowers municipalities to sell their water utilities to private corporations without a public vote. . . . “It’s a great deal for water companies. It’s a terrible deal for citizens,” says state Senator Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex, who opposed the bill. “Let’s call it what it is: greed.” The Nation

NJ: Camden rejects efforts to privatize 911 services. Camden City is nixing a plan to privatize its 911 dispatch services, officials announced Friday afternoon. City Business Administrator Robert Corrales the administration decided to reject all of the bids it had received from companies seeking to take over the city’s police dispatch after neither showed any significant cost savings. “We’re better suited with what we have now,” said Corrales.  NJ.com

NY: Charter Schools Lose Ground in Funding, Report Says. Charter schools have lost ground to public schools during the past five years in terms of per-student funding, according to a report released Thursday by the city’s Independent Budget Office. Wall Street Journal‎

NC: Toll road opponents pledge to continue fighting project in Legislature. Opponents of the $655 million Interstate 77 toll lane project say it’s not too late and the odds aren’t too long to stop what they see as a economic development disaster waiting to happen. “This will be canceled. Bet your money on it,” Mecklenburg County commissioner Jim Puckett said, adding that the $100 million cancellation fee is a fraction of what it could cost the state to buy out the toll lane project later. Charlotte Observer

FL: Florida Gov. Scott Behind Bill Privatizing All Transit Systems. State Rep. Jason Brodeur wants public transportation agencies to seek proposals from private companies. The Sanford republican is working on legislation with the governor and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli. Broduer points to Volusia County’s Votran system run by a company out of Texas. He said Votran’s been more efficient with its private sector management. Broduer now wants not only Orlando’s Lynx system to look for private management, but all transit authorities to seek it out. WMFE

FL: Toll road convention draws international crowd to Miami. Trading tips on everything from new technology that would allow them to shut down a car headed the wrong way on an exit ramp to the best way to extract money from scofflaw drivers who don’t want to pay, nearly 600 owners and operators of toll roads gathered for a worldwide convention in downtown Miami on Monday. Miami Herald

FL: Opinion: Florida is increasingly addicted to toll roads – at commuters’ expense….One reason for relying more on traditional roads is that tolling is regressive. That’s particularly troubling in a low-wage community such as ours that leads America’s major metros in jobs that pay less than $25,000. They are filled with the people who clean hotel rooms and staff theme parks. And many seek housing where it’s cheaper in the suburbs, where they rely on — you guessed it — tolls. It’s a wicked cycle. Proponents of toll roads — from Rick Scott and legislators to U.S. Rep. John Mica, the father of the I-4 plan — say tolls provide options for drivers, including a speedier for-pay alternative. But the price can be steep: as much as $14 each way on the 21-mile tolled stretch of I-4. The prices will fluctuate. Sometimes they could be as little as $2. But not when you really need them. The more congestion, the higher the tolls. Toll planners call this “dynamic pricing.” Real people call it “gouging.” Orlando Sentinel           

VA: Editorial: Lesson learned in public-private deals: Be careful. . . Start with the $260 million the state spent to turn U.S. 460 into a high-priced, high-speed toll road, a highway that will never be built. Or the enormous and endless giveaway of drivers’ money to the company that will control – and toll – the Elizabeth River tunnels for the next six decades. But McDonnell’s ideology led Virginians astray on more issues than just roads. His administration briefly devoted significant energy to privatizing the state’s ABC stores, a wasteful effort that simple math – and past governors – would have told him couldn’t work. Unfortunately, practical cautions were no match for the promises of industry groups, think tanks or the prospects of higher office. McDonnell also tried to sell The Port of Virginia, perhaps the state’s most valuable publicly owned asset. For years, that initiative destabilized the governance and operation of one of the state’s major enterprise engines. The Virginian-Pilot

WI: Opinion: Stop the privatization of public education. There are certain issues for which politicians will fight tooth and nail, and are the reason why they entered into public service in the first place. For me, access to high-quality public education always has been one of those issues. As a kid growing up in a working class home, high-quality public schools with caring teachers helped make me the person I am today. And as someone who cares deeply about the strength of public education, I am dismayed at the recent attempts by Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson to use Wisconsin’s education system as a political poker chip by expanding and promoting the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher program. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

TX: Editorial: Editorial: Privatized GED has failed students, should be changed. . . Across Texas, the number of people taking the test declined by nearly 45 percent since it was privatized. Only 30 percent of those passed — half what the passing rate had been. At the East Texas Literacy Council in Longview, those who were able to pass the GED test fell from 73 in 2013 to just five in 2014. Five. . . Other problems could be more of a hurdle, mainly the fact that taking the test now costs almost twice as much — $135 — as it did before. . . But that’s not all. Those who want to take the test no longer can do so in person, using paper and pencil. They must register online with a credit or debit card, which many of them do not have. Longview News-Journal

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