Privatization: Trump wants to sell off US to millionaires & the Saudis, starting with Air Traffic Control

  • Published on June 4th, 2017

President Trump says he’s going to spend the next week pushing his so-called infrastructure proposals, which are actually just an excuse to sell off YOUR public assets to his buddies. He’s putting lipstick on several pigs that have already been rejected by Republicans in Congress as terrible ideas, starting with the sell-off of the Air Traffic Control system. What could possibly go wrong?

By Jeremy Bloominfrastructure tacoma narrows bridge

Like with most things Trump proposes that sound “so easy” (like his 30-day plan to defeat ISIS, remember that? Or his one-page, detail-free “Tax Plan”?), Trump’s “Infrastructure Week” is long on big ideas, but short on any connection to reality.

Selling off Air Traffic Control

Wouldn’t it be awesome if the next time you flew out of one of our major airports, the folks directing your flight (and making sure the planes didn’t crash into each other) were less like highly-trained professionals and more like phone company customer service?

And wouldn’t it be great if the next time the bridge you drive over to get to work needed repairs, it wasn’t up to some unresponsive agency in Washington to get that done, it was up to some bean-counting accountant in Saudi Arabia?

How about for-profit highway companies stealing your house (via eminent domain) in order to expand their latest ring-road project?

This is exactly what Trump (or more likely Bannon, this has his imprint, along with those privatization-pushing Libertarians, the Koch trainwreckBrothers) is proposing. One TRILLION dollars of “investment” by corporations (including the Saudis, who said they would be happy to dump billions of dollars into buying up US transportation assets).

What could possibly go wrong? Do we have any other examples of privatization run amok that went bad – real bad?

Things can go bad, fast

Just to change the subject…. Do you know how Russia ended up in its current sorry state – a gangster-run, violent kleptocracy?

After Communism fell, all the state-run industries were sold off, mostly to pals of the Kremlin. But this wasn’t a stable system – if you fell afoul of Putin, you’d be framed and jailed, and your assets stripped.

Doesn’t THAT sound appealing?

And this is perhaps the WORST possible administration to put a healthy privatization into practice. With massive ties to building and construction industries, Trump and Kushner have more conflicts of interest in this area than any administration in history. And they’ve also, so far, been the worst administration in history at transparency (see: Tax Returns) and normative behavior (see: blind trust for all assets) as well as following rules (see: Trump Hotel in Washington, which contractually isn’t supposed to benefit any elected official…)

For-profit or not-for-profit?

To be fair, Trump isn’t calling for a direct transfer of FAA assets to a for-profit corporation. No, for Air Traffic Control, he’s proposing to set up a not-for-profit.  This was actually proposed as recently as last year by Bill Schuster (R-PA), the GOP chair of the House Transportation Committee; but he couldn’t even get a vote on it in a House and Senate controlled by his own party, which should tell you what a great idea it is. (We’ve got more on just how bad an idea this is in our follow-up article.)

The main argument for:  Shuster says ““You need to modernize it. We’ve spent billions of dollars over the last decade or two for a new system, a GPS-based system, and haven’t gotten it.” ) EG: Without all that government red tape, they’d just be able to DO IT, right?)

The main argument against: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), ranking member on the Transportation panel, says, “[They] have failed to Stop air traffic control privatizationanswer the many serious questions regarding their plan. Any proposal to overhaul the existing ATC system must be thoroughly vetted, not rushed through Congress.” (EG: You really haven’t thought this through at all, have you – including transferring tens of billions of public assets to a corporation that would be controlled by… WHO exactly?)

The Airlines, most likely. They’d LOVE to have direct control of the system. And not only would this new agency be outside of government control (and red tape), it would be able to set its own fees. Imagine buying a ticket and, when you pay for it, seeing an extra $50 “ATC surcharge” tacked on at the end with the taxes and fuel charges. Don’t like it? Don’t fly.

This couldn’t be about selling stuff off to your friends, right?

But why does Schuster keep pushing for it? According the Art Halvorson, Schuster’s challenger in last year’s GOP primary who nearly unseated him (the Congressman only squeaked by with a shockingly-narrow 1000 votes), this is NOT about big government vs small government. It’s about corruption.

As Huffington Post reported (via StopThePrivatization.com), “Halvorson, a retired Coast Guard captain backed by the Tea Party, seized on Shuster’s romantic involvement with a top airline lobbyist, citing it as evidence of “collusion” between lawmakers and special interests in Washington. He even went so far as to call the relationship “criminal,” criticizing the House Ethics Committee for not opening an investigation into the matter.”

(Schuster’s response: “Ms. Rubino and I have a private and personal relationship, and out of respect for her and my family, that is all I will say about that.”)

Here’s what the GOP-controlled Senate had to say: “The Committee strongly believes that air traffic control should remain an inherently air traffic controller chaosgovernmental function where the Air Traffic Control Organization [ATO] is subject to on-going congressional oversight so that resource needs and activities are reviewed. The annual congressional oversight process is best suited to protect consumers and preserve access to urban, suburban and rural communities. …Given the growing congressional opposition to removing the ATO from the FAA, the Committee will prohibit funding for this purpose should there be any effort to bypass the will of Congress.

And after it failed in the Senate, Americans Against Air Traffic Privatization Spokesperson Julia Alschuler said, “This is yet another clear indication that Congressman Shuster’s privatization proposal is a far-flung fantasy that threatens jobs, hurts everyday Americans, and undermines the bipartisan efforts from the Senate. Despite special interests spending upwards of a million dollars to keep this proposal on life support, Appropriators again made clear that ATC should remain within the FAA in order to protect consumers and rural communities that depend on access to safe and reliable air travel.”

“A Republican-led Congress has rejected ATC privatization time and time again on the grounds of safety, feasibility, and overall concern for the American people,” adds Alschuler. “Privatizing Air Traffic Control is a solution in search of a problem at a time when we need to strengthen middle class workers and rural communities instead of leaving hardworking Americans vulnerable to corporate interests. We hope that Congress and the next Administration will hear the concerns of the American people and finally ground this failed proposal once and for all. ”

More failed + rejected ideas

Just as with coal and the Health Insurance debacle, it appears Trump and Co have hitched their wagon to a dead horse. The bad news is: he has an uncanny ability to push Republicans into voting for bills that they all KNOW are bad ideas.

Right now, the roads, the bridges, even the airports and train stations are public resources. You and I own them. If Trump has his way, pretty soon we won’t be able to walk down the street without paying a surcharge.

Now read the follow-up: Privatizing the Air Traffic Control system is a really bad idea (but Trump needs to change the subject)





About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.