Audit Notes: Watchdog Blogging, Union Power, Stadium Economics

The blog Gin and Tacos makes a fantastic catch on Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker’s effort to take away the right to organize from most of the state’s public unions and cut their pay.

Buried in the bill is language that would allow Walker’s administration to privatize state-owned power plants on terms only a Russian oligarch could love:

with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state… no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project…

Gin and Tacos:

If this isn’t the best summary of the goals of modern conservatism, I don’t know what is. It’s like a highlight reel of all of the high-flying slam dunks of neo-Gilded Age corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism. Extra bonus points for the explicit effort to legally redefine the term “public interest” as “whatever the energy industry lobbyists we appoint to these unelected bureaucratic positions say it is.”

Excellent watchdog blogging.

— Matt Stoller makes an interesting observation today about the Wisconsin union protest.

He notes on Twitter that it’s “probably the first real strike/labor action most Americans under 35 have seen” and links to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers on major strikes since 1947.

From 1970 to 1979 there were an average of 288 work stoppages a year involving more than a thousand workers. From 2000 to 2009 the average plunged to twenty a year.

Stoller also links to the numbers in chart form, saying it’s “one of the most consequential yet little noted parts of modern life in America.”

— Once upon a time, universities were for students—or so I hear.

Here in Seattle, the University of Washington’s $250 million renovation of its decrepit 90-year-old stadium shows how that’s changed.

Once the stadium reopens in 2013, there will be all the usual accoutrements: skyboxes, suites, etc. The important and/or rich people staying dry in the suites will have wet bars while the proles getting rained on in the cheap seats remain dry in that sense.

Students, meantime, who had been sitting on the 50-yard line, will be sloughed off to the end zone, where they will pay three times ($375) what they paid for 50-yard line seats (They can still buy 50-yard line seats if they can somehow afford to fork out $150 per game for tickets to see a bad football team play). That’s so the athletic department can jack up prices on those seats to pay for the renovation.

The best you can say about this is at least taxpayers aren’t on the hook for this one, though the athletic department tried its best, of course, to get public money.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,