Category Archives: Public/Private.Partnerships

How Elon Musk’s O’Hare Express Got The Fast Track In Chicago

Source: Becky Vevea, WBEZ, August 9, 2018

Underneath the popular Block 37 shopping complex in downtown Chicago is a partially finished, unused train station. There are no turnstyles or escalators, just an elevator and a few rectangular openings in the ground. Aldermen approved the “super station” with little discussion in 2005, but it was mothballed before completion. Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley wanted it to be the base for express train service to both Chicago airports. Thirteen years later, with taxpayers still paying off the loan that financed the $218 million station, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has found somebody to fulfill those high-speed dreams: entrepreneur Elon Musk. … Musk said his plan, known as the O’Hare Express, is to build a speedy pod that will shoot through an underground tunnel to get riders between Downtown and O’Hare International Airport in just 12 minutes. Officials said Emanuel and Musk hope to start digging as soon as this fall. But can they fulfill these promises? … Here’s a look at how Chicago’s mayor fast-tracked the express transit to the airport and why that matters to taxpayers, Musk, and the future of express transit elsewhere. …

Related:

Elon Musk and Rahm Emanuel’s New Transportation Scheme Is a Privatization Bonanza
Source: Emma Tai and Stephanie Farmer, In These Times, July 27, 2018
 
In June, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration selected Elon Musk’s The Boring Company to build a non-stop express train from downtown to O’Hare Airport. The development is yet another example of Emanuel’s plan to transform Chicago into a city for the wealthy few.  Emanuel has stated that Musk’s express train will be fully financed by private investors. But the city’s 2009 parking meter fiasco has taught us that working Chicagoans end up on the losing side of fast-tracked privatization schemes. Morgan Stanley Investment Partners (MSIP) paid the city over $1 billion to lease the city’s parking meter system. But in an information memorandum released in 2010, MSIP estimated that, by the end of the lease in 2084, the firm would rake in over $11 billion from parking meter users by charging higher fares. …

Ruling unlikely to end Puerto Rico Oversight Board struggle with local government

Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, July 24, 2018 (Subscription Required)

Puerto Rico bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain’s anticipated ruling on the relative powers of the Oversight Board and the local government is unlikely to end the battle for authority over the debt-burdened U.S. territory. Swain will hear oral arguments Wednesday on an adversary complaint filed earlier this month in the Title II bankruptcy case by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in which he argued the local government can’t be forced to follow parts of the board’s fiscal plan that deal with policy. Governance issues are likely to remain whatever her ruling, observers said. … Other Puerto Rico government sectors have followed the government in filing adversary complaints challenging the board’s power. On July 9 Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Puerto Rico House President Carlos Méndez Núñez filed a complaint similar to the governor’s. On Tuesday the biggest minority party in Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party, said it planned to submit an adversary complaint on different grounds on the same day. …

Related:

Puerto Rico governor names new utility head after board members quit
Source: Reuters, July 18, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s governor on Wednesday named a new executive director of the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), following the resignation of its former head and four of the utility’s seven-member board last week.  Jose Ortiz will replace Rafael Diaz-Granados, who quit a day after being named executive director, leaving the utility with no leadership amid a massive restructuring effort following devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last September.  Diaz-Granados and the four other board members resigned after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello blasted them for agreeing to pay Diaz-Granados an annual salary of $750,000. The PREPA board unanimously elected Ortiz, an engineer, to the post on Wednesday, Rosello’s office said in a tweet. Ortiz, the fifth PREPA executive director named since the hurricane devastated the island and its electric grid last September, is due to take office on July 23. …

Puerto Rico Bondholders Win Ruling Against U.S.
Source: Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2018
 
A federal judge has refused to absolve the U.S. government of liability for investors’ losses on Puerto Rico bonds, a potential blow to efforts to write down the U.S. territory’s $73 billion debt load.  The ruling issued Friday by Judge Susan G. Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is an incremental victory for hedge funds fighting to get repaid on the $3 billion in Puerto Rico pension bonds These creditors have targeted the U.S. directly, saying the federal government should make them whole for enacting a 2016 law that set them up for losses.  The lawsuit strikes at the heart of the rescue law, known as Promesa, designed to tackle the U.S. territory’s fiscal crisis. Promesa was designed to avoid a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico, creating a court-supervised process for wringing debt reductions from creditors instead. …

Continue reading

Unhealthy Skepticism

Source: Suzanne Gordon and Jasper Craven, Washington Monthly, July/August 2018

The Department of Veterans Affairs was back in the news this spring—and, as usual, the news wasn’t good. … But here’s a different story about the VA, from the exact same time period, that major media outlets didn’t bother to report: In March, researchers at the nonprofit research organization RAND published a study revealing the gross inadequacies of New York State’s health care system to effectively treat veteran patients. A month later, RAND found that the quality of VA care was generally better than private health care. These were just the latest of scores of studies that have come to the same conclusion for nearly two decades now. … As the U.S. continues to debate what to do about its unsustainable health care system—and as conservatives continue to push for “free market” solutions, including privatizing the VA itself—the fact that a government-owned and -operated system is outperforming the private sector should be a major story. If VA care is as good or better than the alternative, how would pushing vets into private-sector care make them better off? But that question rarely gets asked, because too many people are unaware that the premise guiding these policies—that the private sector inevitably outperforms government—is false.

… The point is not that the VA has no problems; it does. The point is that by failing to compare it to other health care systems, journalists can present a distorted impression that plays into ongoing efforts to privatize an agency that outperforms the rest of the U.S. health care system on most metrics. … Most recently, with bipartisan support, Congress passed the VA Mission Act, a “reform” package that could massively divert more veterans’ care from the VA to private-sector providers—which, in turn, would likely force the closing of many VA hospitals. Meanwhile, the Trump administration would clearly like nothing better than to be able to outsource lucrative contracts for VA care to its friends in the private sector. If the press doesn’t get this story right soon, America’s biggest and most successful example of government-provided health care will soon pass into history.

Related:

For the first time, a senator is opposing the VA secretary nominee
Leo Shane III, Military Times, July 11, 2018

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee members on Tuesday voted to advance the nomination of Robert Wilkie to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs, but the move came with a symbolic and historic opposition vote against the move. The panel by voice vote sent Wilkie’s nomination to the Senate floor, but with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., opposing the move. … Sanders, the former chairman of the committee, said he also intends to vote against Wilkie when his nomination comes to the full Senate for a vote. … “This has less to do with Mr. Wilkie than President Trump,” Sanders said following the vote. “Trump has been very clear about his desire to move to the privatization of the VA, and I suspect any of his appointees will try and move the agency in that direction.”

VA nominee pledges to oppose privatization
Source: Nahaniel Weixel, The Hill, June 27, 2018

President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday said he doesn’t believe in privatizing the agency and pledged to oppose privatization efforts. “My commitment to you is I will oppose efforts to privatize,” even if it runs counter to the White House agenda, Robert Wilkie told a Senate panel. Under questioning from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Wilkie said he would keep the VA “central” to the care of veterans, but indicated there can be a balance. Democrats and some veterans service organizations believe the White House is being influenced by Charles and David Koch, conservative billionaires who back the group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), which is pushing to loosen current restrictions on veterans receiving private-sector care. …

Continue reading

Trump Administration Backs Off Reshuffling of Student Debt Collection

Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, July 9, 2018

The Department of Education planned this month to begin reshaping the role of private debt collection firms in handling student loans by pulling defaulted borrower accounts from a handful of large private contractors. Lawmakers who control the department’s budget had other ideas. After a recent Senate spending package warned the department against dropping the debt collectors, the plan is on hold. And it’s not clear how those companies will figure into the Trump administration’s proposed overhaul of student loan servicing. Private loan servicers handle payments from borrowers on their student loans and provide information on payment plan options. … The tactics and performance of debt collectors have come under attack from Democrats and consumer advocates. And the Education Department has been involved in a years-long legal dispute over contract awards for the collectors. But the Trump administration, in a resolution of that legal fight, in May said it planned to cancel the entire debt collection solicitation. … Members of Congress, who have already expressed concerns about aspects of the department’s so-called NextGen loan servicing system, warned in separate appropriations bills against the move. … The week after Senate appropriators voted the bill out of committee, and just before it planned to start reassigning borrower accounts, the department notified collections firms it was postponing that step. …

Related:

Editorial: The Student Loan Industry Finds Friends in Washington
Source: Editorial Board, New York Times, March 18, 2018
 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made clear even before taking office last year that she was more interested in protecting the companies that are paid by the government to collect federal student loan payments than in helping borrowers who have been driven into financial ruin by those same companies. Ms. DeVos’ eagerness to shill for those corporate interests is apparent in a craven new policy statement from the Education Department. The document claims that the federal government can pre-empt state laws that rein in student loan servicing companies if such a law “undermines uniform administration of’’ the student loan program. …

Banks Look to Break Government’s Hold on Student-Loan Market
Source: Josh Mitchell and AnnaMaria Andriotis, Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2018
 
Private lenders are pushing to break up the government’s near monopoly in the $100 billion-a-year student-loan market. The banking industry’s main lobbying group, the Consumer Bankers Association, is pressing for the government to instate caps on how much individual graduate students and parents of undergraduates can borrow from the government to cover tuition. That would force many families to turn to private lenders to cover portions of their bills. While that could mean lower interest rates for some, it could constrain funding to households with blemished credit histories. A group of investors also is lobbying for legislation to provide a clearer legal framework for “income-share agreements,” under which private investors provide money upfront to cover tuition in exchange for a portion of a student’s income after school. …

Continue reading

State, federal lawsuits pin defective DC Metro concrete on contractor

Source: Kim Slowey, Construction Dive, July 13, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Commonwealth of Virginia have filed suit against Universal Concrete Products Corp., the manufacturer of concrete panels for the Washington, D.C., Metro’s $5.8 billion Silver Line project, alleging violations of the False Claims Act and Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, as well as unjust enrichment and payment by mistake, according to court documents. Universal was working on the project under a $6 million purchase order contract with design-builder Capital Rail Constructors (Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure South). In the July 9 action against Universal and co-defendants Donald Faust Jr., company president and co-owner, and Andrew Nolan, former quality control manager, the Justice Department and Virginia authorities claim that Universal knowingly provided panels that did not have the required air content for use on the Silver Line project and falsified documents so that it would appear the panels met the project specifications. …

Related

Contractor botches Silver Line concrete
Source: Associated Press, April 25, 2018

Concrete panels installed in the $2.6 billion project extending the D.C. region’s Metrorail Silver Line to Dulles International Airport are not as durable as they should be. Thousands of areas along the extension will need to be dealt with. And some of the concrete will need to be completely thrown out, despite being already installed. Charles Stark, director of the Silver Line project, said the concrete is supposed to last 100 years but was not mixed properly by a subcontractor. …

D.C. Circulator operations contract going to a new provider

Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post, June 4, 2018
 
The District plans to award a 5-year, $140-million contract for the operation of the D.C. Circulator to RATP Dev, a provider of transit systems in cities across four continents, including Washington where it runs the D.C. Streetcar.  The goal is to have a contract in place by July 1 to allow for a 90-day transition; RATP Dev would be the operator effective Oct. 1. The deals needs approval by the D.C. Council.  RATP Dev will run day-to-day operations of the six-route bus system, taking over from First Transit, which has run the Circulator since its inception in 2005. …

Related:

Exclusive: Audit finds DC Circulator buses crumbling, unsafe for service
Source: Max Smith, WTOP, April 7, 2016

Ninety-five percent of DC Circulator buses inspected by an outside firm had at least one safety problem so significant they should have been pulled from service, according to an audit obtained exclusively by WTOP. Transit Resource Center, an independent transit consulting firm, conducted the audit last August, but it was closely guarded until now. The audit found an “unacceptable” number of the most serious safety defects in the Circulator fleet. … Overall, the audit finds the D.C. Department of Transportation and Metro have failed to carry out effective oversight of First Transit, the private contractor that operates the Circulator. DDOT owns the buses, and contracts with Metro to oversee First Transit. The audit notes that First Transit keeps buses for the Potomac and Rappahannock Transit Commission in Northern Virginia up to industry standards with about three smaller defects per bus, but falls woefully short when it comes to the Circulator.

District Exploring a Semi-Privatized Streetcar, Bus System
Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington City Paper, Housing Complex blog, June 26, 2012

Well, this could be a way to build a massive infrastructure project without busting the city’s budget: The District Department of Transportation is asking for ideas on how to bring in private capital for a 22-mile chunk of the original 37-mile streetcar system, and build it over the next five to seven years.

A request for information issued today also includes a proposal for a non-regional bus network, possibly independent from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, that would include and expand upon the Circulator.

Shovels Down: White House Drives Dagger Into Infrastructure Bill

Source: John T. Bennett, Roll Call, May 25, 2018
 
The White House formally drove a dagger into the passage this year of the kind of massive infrastructure package called for by President Donald Trump. What is on the White House’s legislative agenda for the rest of the year includes another tax package, a farm bill, more federal judiciary nominations — and possibly immigration legislation. White House legislative affairs chief Marc Short told reporters Friday that infrastructure will slide into 2019. He blamed election-year politics, saying Democrats have signaled in recent conversations they are uninterested in handing Trump a victory ahead of the midterm elections. …

Related:

Opinion: Rebuilding Schools, Bridges—and Lives
Source: Richard Trumka and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2018

As unions, businesses, engineers and policy makers celebrate Infrastructure Week from May 14-21, we’re reflecting on the investments that add value to America. For every dollar a country spends on public infrastructure, it gets back nearly $3, according to a 2014 study from the International Monetary Fund. Keep this in mind when you hear that the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, has called for $2 trillion to repair, renovate or replace water lines, public schools, bridges and mass transit systems. On top of that, another $2 trillion could make America the global leader in the infrastructure technologies of the future, such as high-speed rail and smart utilities. … When you see that the ASCE’s infrastructure report card gives the nation overall a D+, don’t hang your head. The U.S. can get that grade up. But it won’t happen with a plan like President Trump’s , which would cut Washington’s contribution to infrastructure projects from 80% to 20%, quadrupling the burden on cash-strapped cities and states. The true way forward is to do the opposite: Put the federal government back in the business of building America’s future. …

States That Raise Tolls and Taxes Will Have an Edge in Getting DOT Funds 
Source: Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2018

States and cities that raise taxes and tolls will have a better chance at winning federal money for roads and bridges, part of a Trump administration strategy to have states carry a bigger portion of infrastructure spending. The move is a result of a Transportation Department overhaul to a popular infrastructure grant program, giving it a new name and tweaking the criteria that will determine which project applications will win federal funding. Under the overhaul, which was launched last week, applicants for grants this year will be judged in part on whether they can show that they have generated “new, non-Federal revenue” to help cover project costs, according to a DOT document. That will mean local agencies that raise taxes or tolls to pay for bridges, transit lines or road improvements will be more likely to win some of the $1.5 billion pool of funding authorized for the program this year. …

Continue reading

Privatized student housing – Four key trends will differentiate older and newer P3 projects next year

Source: Moody’s Investors Service, May 1, 2018 (Subscription Required)

Privatized student housing projects are vulnerable to negative pressures in the higher education sector, but will hold steady because of solid real estate fundamentals and marginally improving financial performance. … Examining how trends differ between older projects that have been operating for four years or more (seasoned) and new construction that opened in 2015 or later (recent) underscores how a project’s early years carry the most risk, seasoned projects’ upside potential is limited and no project is immune from an unfavorable operating environment. … Rent growth trend diverges for seasoned projects. … Sector maintains solid occupancy despite disappointing initial lease up at some new projects. … Financial performance strengthens overall, but year-to-year fluctuations at individual projects are the norm. … Unfavorable operating conditions contributed to five downgrades last year. …

Related:

U.S. public universities turning to private sector to meet campus needs
Source: Stephanie Kelly, Reuters, August 26, 2016

U.S. public universities are increasingly turning to public-private partnerships to develop student housing and other campus projects, sometimes using the structure to transfer borrowing and liability risks to the private sector. Over the last five years, there has been an “uptick” in universities and colleges leveraging the private sector to deliver housing needs, said Kevin Wayer, an international director and co-president of the Public Institutions group at commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle. … Use of P3s can contribute to reduced debt on universities’ balance sheets, said Todd Duncan, assistant vice president of housing, food and retail services at the University of Cincinnati’s main campus. While still only a “fraction” of the U.S. municipal infrastructure market, the P3 market is building, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report issued in March. … Universities might engage in P3s for a number of different reasons, including the efficiency that developers can bring to projects, Duncan said. Increased operating costs for institutions and decreased state contributions have led to a financing gap, said Kurt Ehlers, managing director at Corvias Campus Living, a development group. From fiscal 2008 to fiscal year 2016, state spending per student at public two- and four-year colleges decreased 18 percent, according to Michael Mitchell, a senior policy analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships, a non-profit that advocates for P3s, lists 18 types of P3 partnership structures on its website. The council did not have a national figure for how much money is being spent on higher education P3 projects. …

Putting the Public First in Public-Private Partnerships

Source: Gabrielle Gurley, The American Prospect, April 26, 2018
 
… More than a decade later, the Port of Miami Tunnel is the marquee example of a public-private transportation infrastructure partnership. … But the tunnel’s success is deceptive, since the unique factors that converged in South Florida cannot be replicated everywhere. For every Port of Miami Tunnel, scores of ill-conceived projects dot the American landscape. The United States lags behind not only in basic maintenance of existing assets at the end of their life cycles but in building the next generation of roads, bridges, rail, tunnels, and aviation projects. With public funds scarce in a climate of tax-cutting and budgetary austerity, the risk is that the contactor/partner pays the up-front costs but sticks future generations of taxpayers and rate-payers with exorbitant charges. … But states and municipalities can learn to appreciate the differences between partnerships that put the public first and the rip-offs that erode public confidence in government and drain public coffers.

… The Trump administration’s version of an infrastructure initiative relies heavily on private financing, which may or may not materialize. … But the Trump framework is only an exaggeration of recent trends. At best, new fiscal pressures can lead public officials to get creative, seeking private partners who may bring superior engineering, financing, and legal expertise, and better attention to maintenance and operations. But private-sector involvement does not automatically mean a better outcome. Citizens and public officials often forget that the private sector’s prime motive is profit, not philanthropy. If a firm cannot clear a good return on an investment, either the deal will not materialize or the terms will be onerous to the public. Public debates can be marred by false expectations, and confusion or obfuscation of what distinguishes a good partnership from a rip-off. …

Citizen Attitudes Towards Public–Private Partnerships

Source: Eric J. Boyer and David M. Van Slyke, The American Review of Public Administration, April 12, 2018

Abstract
This study examines the factors that influence public attitudes toward public–private partnerships (PPPs) through an analysis of public opinion data collected in 2014. Although previous literature has examined public attitudes toward government contracting and asset privatization, there is little understanding of how the public feels about more collaborative forms of public–private interaction. Counter to previous studies that suggest that support for free enterprise and a disdain for government increases support for private involvement in public services, we find that attitudes toward PPPs are nuanced: Respondents favor them not only when they have positive feelings toward the business sector but also when they also report trust in government. PPPs are thus perceived not as a replacement to public administration, but as a delivery model that demands competence and trust of both public and private partners. The results also explain a previously unstudied relationship between respondent familiarity with PPPs and their attitudes toward them. Counter to expectations, we find that the more familiarity that respondents have with PPPs, the more likely they are to view them favorably. We also identify factors that predict public opinions of PPPs which can inform public outreach and public involvement programs involved with PPPs.

Read full report.