On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence cancelled an interview with PBS out of the blue, provoking speculation. The growing controversy around former FBI director James Comey must’ve gotten to the man known for having a stone face.
But there may have been another reason.
On Monday, the state of Indiana announced it would take control of a troubled highway construction project, Interstate 69, between Bloomington and Martinsville. The contractor, the Spanish firm Insolux Corsan, is facing bankruptcy and had been missing deadlines for months.
Who brought Insolux Corsan to the state? Pence. As governor, he signed a 35-year public-private partnership with the firm in 2014 to finance, construct, and maintain a section of the highway. Pence said it would provide “better value for taxpayers” than if the state used the traditional — and cheaper — method of public financing. But with only half the project completed and taxpayers left cleaning up the mess, one wonders what he’d say now.
Monday also happened to be the kickoff of a weeklong rollout of the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan, which would rely heavily on public-private partnerships. On PBS, Pence was supposed to talk infrastructure — drawing attention to his failed project wouldn’t have been good for business.
The I-69 failure highlights the dangers of Trump’s plan. Rather than the $1 trillion the president promised on the campaign trail, the plan only commits $200 billion in direct federal spending, leaving cities and states desperate for funding and therefore more dependent on local taxes and the private sector to make up the difference.
Public-private partnerships are far more expensive than public financing and — without very strong protections — can hand control of infrastructure to private investors.
Public-private partnerships are far more expensive than public financing and —without very strong protections — can hand control of infrastructure to private investors.
Trump’s plan wouldn’t rebuild America; it would encourage communities to make shortsighted deals with Wall Street and global corporations like Insolux Corsan.
Not only that, it would put a giant “for sale” sign on the country’s roads, bridges, water systems, and other infrastructure. Through a program based on a scheme pioneered in Australia — which crashed and burned — the federal government would pay a bonus to cities and states to outright sell public assets.
There’s no question we need to invest in rebuilding our infrastructure for the 21st century. But federal support should help cities and states maintain public control, avoid tolls and fees, create good jobs, and protect the environment.
Trump’s plan clearly helps someone else: Wall Street and global corporations.