Big Daddy

Private partnerships vs. expanding the state work force

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the budget bill last month, he proposed “additional funding necessary to use contractual services for engineering, design, environmental studies and other work needed to ready projects for construction” of voter-approved Proposition 1B projects.

In other words, the governor favors public-private partnerships in lieu of expanding the state’s work force as a means to quickly deliver Proposition 1B projects to the people of California.

The governor also recently praised a plan using a public-private partnership to clean up land contaminated with toxic waste at the former McClellan Air Force Base.

I agree with the governor’s position on the issue of PPPs and believe they can be applied to solve countless infrastructure problems facing our state.

According to David Crane, the governor’s special advisor on jobs and economic growth, “Public-private partnerships can be used for almost anything.”
Public-private partnerships involve a collaboration of governments and private investors working towards the common goal of completing quality public works projects in a timely manner.

Private entities often operate more efficiently and effectively than the public sector. While funds must inevitably be spent on administrative overhead, I believe PPPs will ensure that amount will be kept at a minimum. In other words, PPPs will allow projects to be completed faster and at a lower cost to citizens.
The process of governments partnering with private companies is nothing new. In fact, PPPs used to be standard practice until the Great Depression, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal took over all public works projects in an effort to provide employment to a greater number of people. Current PPP policy is a rediscovery of a forgotten but nonetheless useful policy.

In the case of McClellan AFB, the McClellan Park LLC has received $11.2 million to clean up hundreds of acres of contaminated soil, making the land available for redevelopment. The site contains toxic chemicals, such as coolants and lubricants, as well as radioactive waste from its days as an active military base. Without this project, the 3,000-acre base would be unusable and even dangerous to the people living in North Sacramento.

Cleaning up the pollution opens up more land for the development of homes, schools, parks and businesses, which accommodates a growing community. It keeps one California community moving forward.

The government simply could not meet the needs and demands of a closed military base alone. That is true of many projects throughout the state and is not surprising given that most of the state’s agencies currently face an 11% vacancy rate.

In my district, the City of Fillmore currently contracts with American Water to design, build, and operate an aging wastewater treatment plant. The 50-year-old plant did not meet the city’s updated water quality regulations. Without a public-private partnership, the city and its residents would have faced higher costs.

Another opportunity to put PPP’s to use involves the aforementioned implementation of the Proposition 1B transportation bond passed by voters last November. This one-time appropriation of $20 billion needs to be spent as efficiently as possible in order to maximize its effectiveness in relieving our clogged highways and improving road safety.

Californians spoke loud and clear when they voted to approve these infrastructure bonds. Now we as leaders need to make sure that we deliver these critical improvements that are so important to maintaining a high standard of living.

PPPs will be a critical tool for Prop 1B implementation, especially since these bonds will be exhausted in the next five years. There will be little room for irresponsible spending or bureaucratic inefficiencies if Californians are to receive the maximum benefits of this package.

We cannot afford to let bureaucratic inefficiencies hold up projects and waste money, especially because these bonds will not be available in perpetuity. We need more money spent directly on projects and less money on overhead.
In doing so, we will have heeded the will of the people who overwhelmingly said they want roads built–not more bureaucratic roadblocks.


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