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  • Wisconsin Legislature Stalls On Water Privatization
    Updated On: Apr 07, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, February 18, 2016

    On Tuesday, the Wisconsin State Senate shot down legislation that would have helped private corporations take over municipal water systems.  The legislation, requested by a Pennsylvania company, would have allowed sale of water utilities to out-of-state corporations and eliminated requiring a public referendum before the utility could privatize.  The bill was part of an ongoing push by conservatives to increasingly privatize public services, and Roland Zullo, a labor relations professor and privatization expert at the University of Michigan, feels the neighboring state has dodged a bullet:

    [Roland Zullo]: “We’re having this long-overdue discussion about inequality in society.   What are the man-made institutions that are responsible for countering inequality, for helping us deal with the inequality that arises from a market economic system?  The biggest, overall, has to be the creation of public services.  It is through public services that we have fresh water brought to our houses, that we have sewage systems, parks and libraries and schools and so forth.  Once those public services begin to break down and become effective, it simply exacerbates inequality.  So, what privatization tends to do is exacerbate inequality on two fronts.  One, we have just inferior public goods, and two, we see also the cuts in wages and benefits of the workers providing those services.”

    In his own state of Michigan, Zullo sees the water crisis in Flint, where thousands of children have been exposed to high levels of lead contamination, as representative of the problems faced when removing democracy from the way in which public services operate:

    [Roland Zullo]: “You’ve got to think of privatization in terms of degrees.  Sort of the opposite of privatization is the democratic control of a system, and clearly the people of Flint did not have control of their water system.  Here in Michigan we have a very aggressive emergency manager law that allows the sitting governor to appoint a person to run a city or school in the event that those public entities run into some kind of fiscal trouble.  Almost all the key decisions in Flint were being made by those appointed emergency managers.  There was a private firm that was hired to come in and do some of the assessments on the water.  Another private firm was very influential in terms of the switchover from the Detroit to the Flint River system.  Then when the water flowing from the Flint River turned out to be foul and poisonous, they were powerless to have it switched back to the Detroit system.  That was all a decision made by the emergency manager.”
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