Privatization

Balance Sheet

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Assets

Open Line. What a difference an election makes. New Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) wants to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And a bill sponsored by Pressler would repeal most cable rate regulations, let Baby Bells manufacture telecommunications equipment, and, within three years, have cable, local telephone companies, and long-distance carriers compete for each other's markets.

Express Train. Using management strategies only a government bureaucracy could fathom, Amtrak inadvertently makes privatization more likely: It will sack 5,500 employees and run fewer trains. If you want sympathy from your customers, don't cut their service! Look for OPEN UNDER NEW (PRIVATE) MANAGEMENT signs at your local railway station soon.

Power Play. Local electric and gas utilities help jump-start the information super-highway. For the past four years, the electric company in Glasgow, Kentucky, has offered cable TV; the local cable franchise had to drop its basic rates by 40 percent to compete. The power company in Manassas, Virginia, reports The Washington Times, has fiber-optic lines in place that could carry telephone, video, and electric services. And Baltimore Gas & Electric competes with Bell Atlantic, letting business customers connect with long-distance phone carriers.

States' Riots. The war against unfunded federal mandates gets serious. Thirteen states—including California, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey—have not complied with the motor-voter law, which lets anyone who applies for a driver's license or for welfare simultaneously register to vote. California Gov. Pete Wilson, saying the bill will cost $35.8 million to enforce, asks a federal court to declare the law unconstitutional. And led by Wilson and Virginia's George Allen, a similar number of governors revolt against the Environmental Protection Agency's auto-emissions testing mandates.

Liabilities

Speech Code. The New Jersey Supreme Court, saying free speech is "fundamentally more important" than property rights, converts shopping malls into government property. Since malls have "large open spaces available to the public and suitable for numerous uses," the court says, they can't prevent protesters from distributing leaflets. The ruling implies that any large commercial building (an office complex? a cinema?) must also allow indoor leafletting. The New York Times predicts this state-court ruling will encourage leafletters to file similar lawsuits in other states.

Bug Bomb. Next week, on America's Most Wanted: butterfly collectors. The Fish and Wildlife Service rushes species of collectible but supposedly rare insects onto the list of protected species, then prosecutes collectors for "poaching." Three California butterfly collectors, Thomas Kral, Richard Skalski, and Marc Grinnell, face as many as five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for "conspiring" to collect and trade butterflies taken from national parks.

Ruble Rabble. The General Accounting Office says Russia has more than two chances in three of defaulting on its $110 billion in overseas loans. In a report estimating the probability of loan defaults for 170 countries, the GAO says Russia is only 32.4-percent likely to repay its debt.

Infernal Revenuers. Happy tax season: For the first time since the 1980s, the IRS will conduct line-by-line audits on more than 150,000 randomly selected returns to monitor tax compliance and check on cheaters. The Wall Street Journal says these "audits from hell" can cost a taxpayer "many thousands of dollars in legal or accounting fees," even if you end up owing no more taxes. While tax specialists argue the feds should reimburse audit targets for reasonable expenses, the IRS says tough luck.

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