Monday, April 4, 2011

Coincidence My Foot

Florida's governor and legislature are far from immune to the growing wave of anti-government, pro-privatization rhetoric sweeping the country; in fact, much of the state legislature seems to fully support it. Which bodes very well for the GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida. GEO has always had a cozy relationship with Florida's politicians, donating heavily to incumbents (especially republicans) and maintaining a small army of lobbyists in the state house.

GEO has also recently been growing, having acquired Cornell about a year ago, along with a private probation monitoring company named BI, Inc. They have likewise been expanding their "health care" (and I use that term very lightly) arm for the past few years, taking over the operations of a few state hospitals.

The two recent budgets proposed in the state house seek to privatize much more of the state's prison system, along with hospitals and parole and probation offices. Thankfully, Florida seems to be the only state looking into proposals of this sort, but I wouldn't count this out in other areas that love privatization as well (Ohio, maybe). In fact, these proposals happened at just the perfect time for the GEO Group, who is looking very-well situated to earn hundreds of millions of dollars on some new contracts. As the president of the state's Police Officers' Union said, "Everything just seems to be falling into place for them, and it's all coincidental."

But aside from how GEO's generous donations politicians in Florida have influenced their desires to privatize everything but the kitchen sink (but GEO is looking into kitchen sink provision services), this push raises concerns for other reasons. Most important is the fact that the private sector, especially in the private prison industry, has consistently failed to deliver on the cost-savings they promise. Republicans love to hide behind the facade of seeking ways to cut spending as a way to balance the budget, but if the situation in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere is to be used as an example, the reactions coming from the right in regards to budgets are more about turning to increased privatization as an end goal, to steer taxpayer money to businesses who have developed relationships with the government. That's why we're seeing this rash of union-busting and pitting private-sector employees against government ones. It's a way to divide the working class and divert their attention while businesses take control of state services.

Especially troubling in this whole situation is that Florida has apparently failed to learn from its mistakes of the past. Following a major scandal in the 90s involving a private parole company, Floridians enacted a law specifically prohibiting the privatization of such services. The new budget proposals would rewrite the legislation, because I guess private parole services are apparently much better now. This strikes a familiar chord, in regards to how the right have been consistently opposed to developing legislation in response to crises.

After the oil spill in the Gulf last year, Republicans told us we shouldn't look to enact tougher regulations on the industry, because the time wasn't right. After the economy collapsed, they told us it wasn't the right time to enact financial reforms. After the tsunami that destroyed the nuclear plant in Japan, we were told the time wasn't right to improve regulations at our nuclear plants. Time and again, republicans warn us against legislating in response to crises. Hooey. That's the BEST time to legislate. When a person, group, or company violates some social norm or rule that results in a disaster or huge crisis, we should use such a situation as a learning experience, and enact legislation to prevent future occurences. But alas, republicans are pretty effective at convincing Americans that the need the exact opposite of what would be most beneficial to them.

So in this case, the law that prohibits privatizing probation services, written after a major scandal involving a private probation service provider, IS A GOOD ONE. Keep it.

But even that doesn't tell the whole story. In regards to privatizing state hospitals, GEO already runs some hospitals for the state. And, guess what, THEY COST MORE. I know, you're shocked. Regardless, republicans still want to privatize more state hospitals, because I suppose it's better to have a private company earn a profit while costing more, than to have a government run a non-profit healthcare system that costs less.

Republicans, in Florida and elsewhere, DO NOT CARE ABOUT SAVING MONEY. Republicans are absolutely not fiscally conservative in any way, shape or form. In fact, all these proposed savings in Florida, as in many other states looking to cut the budget, all help make up for the fact that the governor refuses to raise taxes. Republicans only look to cut taxes and privatize government services, whether or not that's in the best interest of their constituents or their state. In practically every single instance, it's not.

I'll leave on this perfect quote from an editorial in the Miami Herald: "The massive switch to completely privatizing 18 correctional facilities without debate, research or planning is a much more foolhardy enterprise than the FDOT proposal. It simply makes no sense and seems fueled more by lobbying and campaign contributions from private prison operators than from any reasoned approach to trimming the cost of incarcerating prisoners."

My point exactly.

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