For thirty years there has been an ideological pressure for the U.S. government to sell public infrastructure, assets and services. Prisons and schools have been privatized. Toll roads, like the Indiana Toll Road, have been sold to private consortiums. Many of these assets were created by earlier generations who regarded their obligations to citizens as important. Now there is a bigger commitment to an economic philosophy that insists government is the most expensive and least efficient provider of services. Somewhere along the line, with little economic or financial validation, privatization was accepted as the best approach for public assets.
Chart: Policy Dialogues
Some think that when it comes to privatizing U.S. public assets, our nation is a laggard and we really should be following the path of Europe in selling infrastructure into private hands. Here is attorney Kent Rowey, who is a leading infrastructure privatization attorney (and whom I’ve sparred with previously):
Governor Bob McDonnell might as well have put a for-sale sign on Virginia’s front lawn when he announced that the state’s Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships (OTP3) has a “pipeline” of potential privatization projects. The governor and Sean Connaughton, the head of the Department of Transportation, appear to be racing to move as many of Virginia’s public assets into private hands as possible. The Bond Buyer has the story:
New York seems to have developed the best form of public-private partnerships in the nation. The city revitalized itself, after its rapid decline in the 1970s, by allowing private, non-profit interests to take a larger role in public affairs. For example, the city hosts 67 business improvement districts (BIDs) and two major park privatizations, and these show that cities can receive support from the private sector without having to hand over, in exchange, major profit-seeking opportunities and assets to private interests.
Across the nation cash-strapped municipalities are considering the sale of their public-utility systems. These moves are intended to raise cash and rid the municipalities of expensive liabilities such as debt service and pension obligations. But officials considering this approach might do well to look to France and other nations that are rapidly moving in the opposite direction with a “remunicipalization” of their utility systems. In 2010, Paris, in the best known case of remunicipalization, ended contracts with the world’s two biggest water service companies, Suez and Veolia, bringing an end to their 100-year private duopoly. The reversal of a century-old practice in Paris was an acceleration of an international movement away from private control. Per remunicipalisation.org:
Two major American cities are embarking on large capital programs, but in very different ways. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has a $1.8 billion, five-year plan that he will fund with municipal bonds, while Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to push a $7 billion plan, which will be paid for by private investors, through the city council. It would be hard to find to two more dissimilar approaches to rebuilding America’s urban infrastructure or two more different lists of who will reap the monetary benefit of the improvements.
Reuters ran a piece yesterday that caught my eye: “Macquarie eyes $2 billion North American infrastructure fund: sources.” According to the article, Macquarie, the Australian company active in infrastructure privatization, wanted to leverage its prior American success as it begins to raise funds: