Progressive Maryland pushes for recovery of people power in our everyday lives

Privatization, and the continued push for it, reduces people's power over their everyday lives. Progressive Maryland is active in opposing, or remedying, loss of people power.

/By Woody Woodruff/ Progressives recognize that keeping as much democratic, public control as possible over the crucial financial aspects of our lives is critical to maintaining a civil society. Progressive Maryland has taken a role in advocating on two issues where this is at stake, and testified this week before the Montgomery County delegation on relevant bills.

 Montgomery County is considering turning over its publicly regulated and managed retail liquor business sector to the private sector, ending the central role of public liquor stores in stabilizing sales and use of a commodity that gives pleasure to many but is implicated in much suffering as well.

 As Larry Stafford, PM’s executive director, argued at a hearing on the state law (local bill MC 3-16) that would make this change to privatization, the current system of public regulation and management of this potent product has significant benefits compared to one totally controlled by private-sector interests.  

 “Oversight and accountability can be much better maintained in a control system,” Stafford testified in summary, and he pointed out that national comparisons of public versus private control of the retail liquor industry show more deaths of young drivers, as well as significant drops in public revenues, under privatization. Montgomery’s public liquor activity, like that in many other jurisdictions, provides safety and health guidance for many purchasers that can reduce the potential for harm that can come with alcohol consumption. As with many other economic activities, democratic public oversight, regulation and management are critical to restrict out-of-control private behavior that sacrifices the interests of people to the interests of profit. PM backs MC 7-16, which retains public retail liquor management and is endorsed by eight (out of nine) county council members.

 Testimony from officials of MCGEO, the public employee union, noted that $35 million in annual county revenue would be lost and have to be replaced if privatization is chosen

 Similarly, the burden of student loans weighs down the prospects for a productive life for many young people in our society. Justin Vest, a PM staff member, gave testimony to Montgomery County’s state delegation in support of a proposal to create a Student Loan Refinance Authority. Student loan debt, which at $1.3 trillion now exceeds total credit card debt in the US, afflicts many young people – at least 25 million – trying to start families or establish households. Included in this group are graduate students who account for 40 percent of total loans. Many take jobs with high social value, modest salaries, yet requires high levels of education like teachers, social workers and nonprofit employees.

 Our society and communities can’t thrive when young people can’t get a start in life due to loan burdens that keep them from accumulating, for instance, down payments on a home mortgage. The student loan industry is slowly emerging from a privatized era when financial institutions fattened on these high-interest loans sheltered from risk by federal guarantees – a type of pseudo-democratic control that in fact worked against the public good.

 A refinancing mechanism for student loan burdens would return this critical factor in our society to greater public control (while we debate how costly, or how nearly free, public higher education should be).

 A lot of the burdens we face in our lives every day can be traced to a loss of democratic, public control over the workings of our economic society. It’s easy to overlook the connections. Progressive Maryland is working on many fronts to restore that people power to our everyday lives.