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The lure is the supposed promise that privatization will deliver a
short-term budget fix. Yet many privatization efforts, as this Dispatch will
highlight, have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and
botched services for the public. That privatization continues to move
forward despite such a poor track record reflects pure ideology that
the private market delivers the most efficient outcomes, even without
demonstrable results. Some states may also be making the more cynical
decision to pursue immediate short-term infusions of capital at the
expense of long-term financial cost in pursuit of short-term electoral
gains. In any case, privatization comes at the expense of long-term
investments in the community, sustainable budget policy and public
Last month, leading voting machine manufacturer Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) purchased
Premier Election Solutions from its parent company, Diebold Inc.
ES&S currently controls 50% of the voting machine market in the US
and the acquisition of Premier will add another 33%, giving the company
control of over 80% of the market. The sale was not announced prior to
completion and has raised serious concerns among voting integrity advocates and lawmakers.
Last week in Detroit, state legislators and key organizational allies
of Progressive States Network came together at our annual Legislative Leadership Retreat
to plan our legislative work for 2010. Recognizing both the challenges
and opportunities facing progressives in the present economic and
political environment, participants planned an ambitious policy and
outreach strategy for the coming year. Held in conjunction with the Economic Analysis Research Network
(EARN) annual conference of policy organizations, the event was a
chance to discuss how progressive legislators could work more
effectively with each other and with organizational allies. The event
was a chance to celebrate the achievements of Progressive States
Network and its progressive legislators and organizational allies,
while planning for an even more successful future for the Network.
The Texas legislature only meets once every two years, and this year
there was enough drama, both real and fabricated, to last until they
reconvene in 2011. The biggest story by the end of the session was the
minority parties ability to kill voter ID legislation in the House by
"chubbing" or running out the clock by meticulously debating
non-controversial legislation. The need to prevent the
disenfranchising ID bill has the unfortunate consequence of killing
much good legislation. And the primary reason there was good
legislation to pass in the House was the big intrigue from the
beginning of the session - the election of a compromise speaker with
minority party support, replacing long-time speaker and conservative
stalwart Tom Craddick.
The District of Columbia has obtained an agreement
from Sequoia Voting Systems to review a vast amount of information
about one of their voting machines, which somehow recorded
thousands of extra ballots during the September primaries.
Investigators assembled by the council will have access to the source
code and documents related to its creation, as well as blueprints for
the machine hardware.
In this Dispatch, we emphasize that any stimulus spending has to be tied to increased
accountability and transparency in spending decisions, especially by
government contractors who often operate like a shadow government with
little oversight. One key reality is that those most in need often don't receive help from
government spending without transparency and accountability measures
built into the rules. While the recent federal recovery plan made real
strides in expanding such accountability, additional measures are still
needed if the recovery plan is going to deliver real equity in our
As this Dispatch will outline, Buy American policies are a first step in promoting an alternative to the trade and deregulation policies that fueled the current economic crisis. Ultimately, we need policies that strengthen local tools for economic growth at home, combined with fair trade policies to raise wage standards abroad as well. Also, as corporate interests increasingly use trade agreements to restrict state authority to protect worker, consumer and environmental interests, states are increasingly reviewing those trade agreements in order to restore states' ability to effectively respond to economic crises and protect the long-term interests of working families.
Given the central role of private contractors in delivering public services, this Dispatch continues our series of Privatization Updates (see November's edition). Today we focus on current privatization debates in the education, prison and mental health sectors -- and what states are doing to increase accountability for contractors.
The new American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains significant funding for the states, but it also has tight new transparency rules requiring states to track how all federal funds are being spent and the number of jobs created. These provisions aren't just ethically desirable, they are extremely practical fiscal measures for combating the recession and growing the economy. Strict transparency can save states millions in unnecessary expenditures and increase the quality of work they receive from private contractors, while simultaneously ensuring that contractors create quality, decent-paying jobs to help turn the economy around.
The unfortunate reality is that most states are not collecting the necessary information to meet the standards required by the Recovery Act. This Dispatch is designed to summarize what states need to do.