The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

August 26, 2008
Public-private partnerships could get big boost

According to a front page story in today's Wall Street Journal, the Pennsylvania legislature will soon vote on a $12.8 billion deal struck to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

From the story: A green light in Pennsylvania could bolster the political will of officials in other states trying to hash out similar deals. That in turn could jump-start projects in waiting, from Florida's Alligator Alley to Chicago's Midway Airport.

... Proponents say the lease approach could provide financial relief to state governments struggling with foreclosures, ballooning pension obligations and reduced tax bases. That's not to mention crumbling roads -- and lately, a drop in tax revenue to pay for repairs, owing to high gasoline prices that have reduced driving. The U.S. needs about $1.6 trillion in investment over the next several years to bring infrastructure conditions to acceptable levels, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

... Detractors, from the Turnpike Commission itself to labor unions, question whether the state is selling too cheaply. They also worry that jobs will be lost -- under the proposal, union contracts are guaranteed only until 2011 -- and that tolls will rise.

With California facing at least $500 billion in needed infrastructure repairs and upgrades, it's easy to envision public-private partnerships becoming a bigger part of the political dialog here, particularly if proponents of the idea can point to a Turnpike success story. And if the Pennsylvania proposal fizzles or becomes a fiscal boondoggle later, look for PPP opponents to jump all over it as a high-profile lesson of the ills of such deals.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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