Wisconsin says “no” to privatized water
With the lead poisoning tragedy in Flint, Michigan, still playing out in the national headlines, we’ve been due for good news about our nation’s water — and Wisconsin just delivered it.
Yesterday, state leaders scrapped a bill that would have made it easier for private corporations to buy municipal water and sewer utilities across the state. The bill, introduced at the request of a for-profit water company based in Pennsylvania, would have made it more difficult for Wisconsin residents to vote on who controls their water.
The evidence against privatization is plain as day. Customers of Wisconsin’s only privately owned system — which services the city of Superior — pay the highest rates in the state. On top of the costs of water and infrastructure maintenance, Superior’s residents pay an additional 9 percent to cover their private operator’s profit margin and higher private-sector debt costs.
Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO), said,
“This appalling power grab by corporate interests was stopped by the voice of the people. Union members sent thousands of messages to lawmakers around the state to express dismay and disappointment with privatizing our water utilities without citizen say.”
And Superior isn’t an outlier. A new report released on Tuesday by Food and Water Watch shows that, nationally, privately owned water systems charge 58% more than those that are publicly owned. For example, private systems charged 84 percent more than public systems last year in Pennsylvania, adding $323 to the typical household’s annual water bill.
The math doesn’t add up — it’s not even close. Privatizing water only makes sense to for-profit investors and the politicians that think government should be run like a business.
We got a glimpse of what running government like a business looks like in Flint, where cost-cutting and austerity politics have hurt children in a city already wrecked by long-term economic decline.
Water is a human right and the bedrock of a healthy society. The systems that deliver water must be under the public’s democratic control so that it remains that way.
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