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The Desperate Selling Off of America

Rather than upset the moneyed interests who bought their seats in office, politicians prefer to cut pensions, close schools, and most importantly, privatize, privatize, privatize!

This article has been updated.

While we have been frantically playing defense against relentless assaults on multiple fronts, from anti-union legislation to draconian anti-choice laws to the attempted privatization of Medicare, the selling off of public assets to the private sector has received little attention.

As states face a budget shortfall of  $125 billion for fiscal year 2012, leaders are searching for creative ways to fill budget gaps, while refusing to consider the one legitimate solution: forcing tax-dodging corporations and the rich to pay their fair share in taxes. Rather than upset the moneyed interests who bought their seats in office, politicians of all stripes prefer to cut pensions, close schools, slash child nutrition programs, and most importantly, privatize, privatize, privatize!

In 2008, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley auctioned off the city's 36,000 parking meters to a Morgan-Stanley lead partnership, for a lump sum of $1.15 billion. According to  Bloomberg, Chicago drivers will pay Morgan Stanley “at least $11.6 billion to park at city meters over the next 75 years, 10 times what the system was sold for. The mayor used millions from the deal to help balance the budget, but since then, Morgan Stanley has raised parking fees 42 percent. “It now plans on “stuffing more cars into fewer metered spaces by getting rid of marking lines, raising the number of metered slots and expanding the hours that require fees,” according to the Associated Press.  


Chicago gave up billions of dollars in revenue for a short-term fix and now, if the city faces another fiscal crisis, it will be left with an asset that generates revenue for Morgan Stanley.  Despite the controversy in Chicago, the Associated Press  reports that New York is exploring private options for its parking spaces as well.

Meanwhile, according to Think Progress, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), a member of the Tea Party Caucus, has  suggested that “one way to help close the nation’s budget deficit is to “start liquidating” public lands in Utah by privatizing large parts of the state,” 70 percent of which is owned by the federal government. Soon after, Utah Governor Gary Herbert  hopped on board, agreeing that Ross's idea was "worth exploring." He even went so far as to claim “the land would be better in private hands because private owners maintained Indian artifacts and burial grounds better.” Apparently his position is quite popular, since it has been embraced by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ), who proposed a  bill that would sell off land in Utah and other western states.


The most insidious privatization scheme so far this year was in Wisconsin, the center of the state budget battles. A  provision in Republican Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill would have empowered politicians to sell any state-owned heating, cooling, or power plant, including those located in prisons and the University of Wisconsin campuses, to anyone for any price at any time, without public approval or a call for bids. Although the provision was ultimately removed from the budget bill just before it passed, it is expected to be taken up again later this year.

In an effort to offset an $8 billion budget deficit, Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich has  proposed privatizing five prisons, a sale expected to bring in an estimated $200 million. Florida's GOP-controlled Legislature is set to “ require the state to privatize prisons in South Florida, home to one-fifth of the statewide inmate population of 101,000,” reports the Miami Herald . Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal plans to  sell three state prisons to private operators. Similar bills have sprung up in other states, never mind the lack of evidence showing that private prisons actually save any money.

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