Report exposes GOP governors ties to donors who get contracts

Maggots in prisoners’ food. Electronic web-only for-profit schools that flunk national standards. A state economic development department, funded by liquor taxes, whose corporate clients don’t create the jobs they promise. Two states that have seen for-profit schools tank. And lost public jobs – thousands of well-paying middle-class public jobs.

And that list of impacts of outsourced public jobs and services doesn’t even count the now-bankrupt Indiana Toll Road, which a prior GOP governor sold to foreign investors.

Those are some findings of a report on galloping privatization of public sector work, published October 15 by the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Media and Democracy.

The Wisconsin group’s report, Pay To Prey: Governors Facilitate The Predatory Outsourcing Of Public Services, focuses on policies of seven Republican governors, all up for re-election this year: John Kasich (Ohio), Rick Snyder (Mich.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Paul LePage (Maine), Scott Walker (Wisc.), Sam Brownback (Kansas) and Tom Corbett (Pa.).

The common denominator for all seven governors is the close links between their campaign contributors and the awards of contracts to provide state services – services that state workers, thousands of them previously unionized, provided – and the governors’ ideological anti-worker pro-corporate agendas, usually pushed by the notoriously secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Kasich is coasting towards re-election. Polls show Corbett is a dead duck even in GOP areas. Brownback split his own party and is trailing. The other four are in close races.

Besides Florida’s Scott, whose blind trust may have benefited from privatization of state prison health care services, none of the governors appear to have personally profited from the outsourcing, Lisa Graves, the center’s executive director, told a telephone press conference. Instead, their corporate backers cleaned up.

“A real pattern that emerged is of deep-pocketed political interests being in the driver’s seat,” she said. “And all too often, taxpayers have found themselves on the losing end.”

So have public workers. Though Graves did not mention it, the Economic Policy Institute points out that in past recessions, public-sector employment rose as governments hired more workers to take care of the social problems unemployment produced. But since the start of the Great Recession, governments cut workers, and have yet to rehire them.

Much of that may be due to the increasing privatization of public services, ushered in by the 2010 Republican sweep of governors’ offices and legislatures, press conference speakers said. They noted that outsourcing public services to private firms, including overseas firms, accounts for one-sixth of state government spending. Drawing upon legislative investigations, news reports and auditors’ findings, Pay To Prey shows results have been horrifying, including:

Wisconsin’s newly privatized state economic development corporation, led by a 15-person board that Walker chairs, “lost track of $8 million in 2012, and the federal Housing and Urban Development Department said” the EDC “misappropriated $10 million last year,” State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, reported. “The non-partisan State Audit Bureau reported last year that the corporation ‘failed by almost every measure.'”

 “With all this spending, $203 million, very few jobs were created,” she added. Precisely, she said, 23,459. In his first campaign in 2010, Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs.

Aramark took over the prison kitchens in Michigan, a $145 million business, after spending $570,000 to lobby Snyder, the legislature and the state Corrections Department to reverse a previous decision that privatization wouldn’t pay. The firm fired 370 workers, all of them AFSCME members. Its supervision is so lax that maggots infested the prisoners’ food.

Besides the maggots, Aramark also produced inadequate portions and Aramark workers had sex with prisoners, the Detroit Free Press reported. The state initially fined Aramark $98,000 due to the maggots, but later returned that sum – while fining it another $200,000 when the various violations continued.

Kasich also had his Ohio Corrections Department give the prison food contract to Aramark. The amount was unspecified. The maggots turned up in Ohio prisoners’ food, too.

Kasich pushed through a law to use state liquor revenues to fund a new, privatized, economic development department. Speakers told the press conference his department has created only a few thousand jobs at the most. Some were transferred from another factory in Lexington, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, the report notes.

Florida’s Scott ordered all public high school students in the state to take at least one of every 10 courses online from for-profit educational firms, such as K12 and Kaplan Educational Services. Executives of the five firms involved spent $2.36 million lobbying Scott and lawmakers for the privatization scheme. The contracts are worth millions more.

Scott also ordered all graduation exams to be administered, by the private firms, online. The software has malfunctioned in 26 districts. Six of K12, Inc.’s Florida for-profit schools received “F” grades from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, while four got “D”s, two got “C”s and another got an “Incomplete.”

Pennsylvania’s Corbett pushed privatizing Philadelphia schools. Though the report doesn’t say so, his brainstorm, which would have cost hundreds of union jobs among the majority-minority school district workforce, produced mass protests. Teachers President Randi Weingarten and other leaders were arrested during those demonstrations. Corbett’s also tried to privatize the state liquor authority, again threatening workers’ jobs.

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jarvis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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