By banning water privatization, Baltimore is showing what it really means to #Resist


Donald Trump’s first attempt to sell water, Trump Ice, failed miserably, but his administration continues to push a plan that would encourage state and local governments to giveaway water systems and other infrastructure to Wall Street and global corporations. As his Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao reminded everyone last month, “We hope to do something big on infrastructure.”

But I would argue that what Baltimore is about to do with its water is much bigger than anything the Trump administration might do — at least in terms of benefiting poor and working people, you know, most of us.

Mayor Catherine Pugh just signed a bill that would prohibit the city from selling or leasing its water and sewer system, putting the decision to residents on the November ballot. If voters approve, Baltimore would be the first U.S. city to amend its charter to effectively ban water privatization.

It’s hard to put into words just how remarkable this is. Like many cities, Baltimore has increased water rates in recent years to pay to fix aging pipes and infrastructure. Last month, it raised rates 9 percent, which means the price of water has doubled in the past eight years. It made headlines in 2015 for shutting off water to thousands of poor and working families who were behind on payments. (Go figure: water kept flowing to the 350 businesses that owed a collective $15 million.) As rates have skyrocketed, it’s taken calls from multinational water corporations looking to run its system.

When crises hit, public officials often turn to privatization as a quick public relations fix. Handing over a struggling public service to private investors makes it appear that problems are being addressed. And when people are desperate, they tend to believe that any change is good, making them overlook facts, like that private water companies aren’t more efficient, or that water bills average 59 percent higher in privatized systems.

Instead, Baltimore’s leaders just showed what many call political will, a rare commodity in the age of endless tax cuts. Pushed by organized residents and groups like Food & Water Watch and Communities United, they’re laying the groundwork to truly fix the city’s crumbling infrastructure rather than use the smoke and mirrors of privatization.

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And how should they fix it? Three words: no more austerity. If the election of Donald Trump proved anything, it’s that racism and sexism go hand-in-hand with cutting taxes and critiquing “big government.” In conservative logic, the government is “too big” when it comes to helping poor, black, and brown people but not big enough when it comes to controlling women’s bodies, hiring police, and manufacturing weapons.

It’s time that we use government as a tool to ensure that everyone, no matter their skin color, neighborhood, or job, has what they need to be educated, healthy, and safe.

Specifically, Baltimore should make sure that everyone has water by guaranteeing affordable rates for low-income households. Such a policy, like a similar program having success in nearby Philadelphia, could increase revenue because when people can afford their bills, they’re more likely to pay them.

Beyond that, Baltimore should work with whoever ends up governor of Maryland come November to fight for more funding from Washington. Federal spending on infrastructure has been cut by half over the last 35 years. It’s time to tax corporations and the wealthy to rebuild the country that makes them rich.

That’s surely not what Trump wants to do. Instead, he wants to help a handful of wealthy investors by incentivizing cities to sell off their water, roads, and other assets.

What Baltimore is about to do, while small, is true, honest-to-God #Resistance.


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Jeremy Mohler is a writer and communications strategist for In the Public Interest, a nonprofit that advocates for the democratic control of public goods and services. He’d love to hear from you: jmohler@inthepublicinterest.org