The advanced privatization schemes of the far right in Texas are unraveling, and the perpetrators are going down. Privatization of government-run services has been a principle feature for neo-conservative rule worldwide since they took over in 1980. If Texas is an example of things to come, and it often is, then ‘privatization’ is about to assume the ugly reputation it deserved for so long.
Rick Perry took over as Governor of Texas when George W. Bush left for the White House. Perry was expected to continue the privatization that Bush had already begun, but he went even further. He pushed prisons, juvenile offender programs, roads, schools, medical care, and virtually every form of state-provided human services toward his friends in private industry. Until 2009, it seemed that nobody could stop the Texas privatization train.
Scandals about privatized ‘charter’ schools and attempts at state-provided school vouchers for private education have been rampant throughout Rick Perry’s tenure. In 2008, the ‘Dallas Morning News’ exposed the shameful treatment in juvenile detention facilities. Protests erupted against Rick Perry’s gigantic plan to build a privatized ‘Trans Texas Corridor’ with privately operated pipelines, trains, and highways from Mexico to Oklahoma. Efforts to convert nearly all the functions of the Department of Health and Human Services to profit centers failed dismally. A giant project to hand off the state’s data processing to a private company flopped.
On January 4th, just as Texans are bracing themselves for the next biannual session of the State Legislature, ‘The Dallas Morning News’ launched a major investigative series aptly titled ‘State of Neglect.’ In it, they document the tragedies experienced by Texans who desperately needed the state-funded help to which they were entitled – but couldn’t get from profit-hungry companies! The newspaper series, led by reporter Gregg Jones, also reviews the entire privatization process. It names the political figures receiving payoffs, the companies making the payoffs, and the amounts involved. It lambasts the (lack of) Texas law allowing former office holders to immediately cash in as lobbyists. Most states, and the federal government, require office holders to stay away from lobbying for a long interval. One lobbyist, according to the newspaper, made $5,000,000 from privatizers in his first year after serving in the State Legislature!
On January 5, the Texas Department of Transportation quietly announced that Rick Perry’s ‘Trans Texas Corridor’ was dead. On that same day, the most powerful political figure in the state, Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, who had also received big contributions from the privatizers, announced that he will not seek another term.
The unsung heroes of this sordid story are not mentioned in the commercial news accounts. Texas labor opposed privatization at every turn. The Texas State Employees’ Union, affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, constantly exposed the lies of the privatizers. Texas AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills made sure that every union activist in the state was clear about every development.
As privatization in Texas flames out, the good guys ride away victorious!
Texas is near the bottom among the 50 states in per-capita spending on health and human services, but it is a leader in outsourcing these functions to private contractors. Since taking office in 2000, Perry has pushed some of the nation’s most ambitious outsourcing endeavors, going well beyond his predecessor, George W. Bush.
‘We have a leadership that believes the private sector does things better,’ said Celia Hagert, senior policy analyst and privatization expert at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research group in Austin.
‘Whether it’s ideology or philosophy – simply believing that people shouldn’t be on these programs in the first place – these things have combined to create a very stingy social safety net system in Texas.’