Follow
e f t y i

Voting to Keep Public Services in Public Hands

Photo Credit: Hannes Kutza / EyeEm / Getty
f t e +
By Jeremy Mohler, In the Public Interest Explore the Issues Privatization

It’s easy to come out of Election Day with simplistic, black-and-white conclusions. Either our team won or lost, and our emotions follow suit. But progress was made during the midterm elections on Nov. 6 in places as diverse as Maryland, Arizona, Texas and California.

Voters chose to side with the common good in at least two powerful ways: stopping privatization and implementing progressive taxes to pay for much-needed public services.

This should give us hope in our struggle against a “vaguely defined national philosophy that protects the privileges of the wealthy and powerful,” as In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen described it in Dismantling Democracy.

Stopping privatization

Baltimore made history by becoming the first major U.S. city to prohibit the sale and lease of its water and sewer system. Multinational water corporations had been circling like vultures for years, and with the Trump administration pushing federal support for infrastructure privatization, private investors, as Mark Twain once wrote, saw “gold in them thar hills.” But now the Maryland’s most-populous city can get to work ensuring that every resident has clean water at a price they can afford.

Arizona voters rejected a massive expansion of the state’s private school voucher program that would’ve drained more money and support from public schools.

Austin, Texas, voted down a third-party “efficiency study” of the city’s operations and finances, which could have laid the groundwork for privatization of public services.

Voters in Florida’s Escambia County voted to prohibit the sale or lease of currently unleased properties on Santa Rosa Island, the site of the what was perhaps the very first privatization, the earliest European settlement in what is now the mainland United States.

Voters in San Diego chose to boost transparency in city contracts by requiring all businesses and individuals who would benefit financially to be revealed before the council approves any such deal.

California’s Monterey County is poised to take back its water from a multinational water corporation as a ballot measure exploring a public buyout looks to have enough votes to succeed. The corporation spent $3 million – 19 times more than a local pro-public group – but the case for public water appears to have prevailed.

Progressive taxes for public goods

San Francisco voters approved a tax on large corporations to raise enough money to nearly double what the city spends on homeless services and housing.

Voters in Portland, Oregon, passed a tax on large corporations to fund clean energy projects such as weatherizing homes, installing solar and other renewable energy projects, providing jobs and contractor training, expanding local food production and building green infrastructure while focusing on communities of color and people with low incomes.

California residents decided to keep the state’s gas tax, which generates roughly $5 billion for road repairs and improvements per year.

Seattle voters raised the property taxes on some homes to fund subsidized preschool, support programs in Seattle Public Schools.

Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah used initiatives to force their states to expand Medicaid eligibility.

It wasn’t all good news. As just one example, voters in Colorado and Oklahoma, states where teachers walked out earlier this year, decided against increasing funding for public schools.

As always, the struggle continues.