FA Note: A Public-Private Partnership, or “P3” as below is usually billed as an “innovative” financing scheme whereby a government service or private business venture is funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies. In infrastructure P3s, taxpayers can expect being charged user fees, such as tolls, on roads originally built at taxpayer expense, which become the property of private industry.
The Obama administration has announced a plan to build “a 21st-century infrastructure” that is run by private sector corporations because of their ability to finance these projects.
According to a “fact sheet” published by the White House, the president “is announcing new steps that federal agencies are taking to bring private sector capital and expertise to bear on improving our nation’s roads, bridges, and broadband networks.”
The creation of the Water Finance Center (WFC) within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coincides with the implementation of the Rural Opportunity Investment Initiative (ROII), a new division of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assist “local and state governments access federal loan and grant programs to get more projects off the ground.”
This necessitates “a new set of infrastructure tax proposals that will level the playing field for projects that combine public and private investment so that local and state governments can more easily work with the private sector to advance the public interest.”
In essence, the Obama administration is pushing “the importance of these critical investments” (i.e. a partnership between corporations and government) to ensure employment, facilitate job creation, assist entrepreneurs and boost the US economy.
The WFC will infiltrate managing drinking and waste water needs for the next 2 decades by working “closely with municipal and state governments, utilities and private sector partners to use federal grants to attract more private capital into projects and promote models of public private collaboration that can address the real needs of cities and towns to provide safe water, rebuild sewer systems, and keep streams and rivers clean.”
By seeking out private corporate investments, the WFC will be empowered to:
- Bring innovative financial tools such as public private partnerships to the water sector to get more projects off the ground
- Help interested local and state governments to bring private sector investment and expertise into water system construction and management
- Bring together investors and project sponsors; highlight promising deals; provide peer-to-peer learning and workshops; and develop case studies and toolkits
- Work with states to maximize the benefits of more than $3 billion in annual federal water investments
- Explore financing alternatives, engage the private sector and attract investment
- Work with on-the-ground partners to provide financial training and technical assistance to small communities and rural water systems
In parallel, the ROII will be tasked with identifying “opportunities for investment in promising rural water, energy, and broadband projects, reduce barriers to investment, and connect projects with investors.”
With the ROII bringing corporations to investment opportunities with the US government and the WFC dictating how individual state governments can proceed with allocating their natural and municipal resources, the projected profit margin for larger corporations could be a tempting lucrative investment.
To accelerate growth the ROII will:
- Facilitate and catalyze rural investment opportunities for the public and private sectors
- Look to generate and facilitate rural investment through USDA field staff across the country and strengthen relationships with the private sector
- Focus on opportunities to leverage private sector financing against the over $30 billion in existing USDA programs and resources to provide funding to vital rural infrastructure projects; including water and wastewater systems, energy efficiency improvements, broadband networks, and other rural infrastructure needs
The USDA has already involved private finances with “the $10 billion CoBank rural infrastructure fund [deal] between CoBank and Capital Peak Asset Management and a $150 million Rural Business Investment Company.”
In order to ensure that corporations are able to invest in US infrastructure unfettered, the Obama administration is “leveling the playing field for municipalities seeking public private partnerships by proposing the creation of an innovative new kind of municipal bond, Qualified Public Infrastructure Bonds (QPIB).”
QPIB will “combine public ownership with private sector management and operations expertise” in order to give corporations the ability to purchase “municipal bonds” that provide “long-term leasing and management contracts” benefiting investment capitalists and lower “the cost of borrowing.”
The Obama administration would envisions QPIB functioning just as the Private Activity Bond (PAB) program with the intention of expanding the initiative to include “financing for airports, ports, mass transit, solid waste disposal, sewer, and water, as well as for more surface transportation projects.”
Without an expiration date, the QPIB will also offer to corporations the assurance of “no issuance caps” as well as not being “subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).”
Not all corporations can benefit from the QPIB because the Obama administration has prohibited “privately-owned facilities or privatizations of public facilities” from participating in the program.
In addition, the development of the Transportation Investment Center (TIC) at the Department of Transportation (DoT) will bridge local and state governments with corporations who are ready to invest in “project planning, and attracting investors for U.S. projects from around the world through the SelectUSA Program (SUSAP).”
With 13 projects on the table at the DoT costing $7.5 billion, the TIC would be able to provide $25 billion in “infrastructure investments” from private corporations to expedite the rebuilding of highways, port bridges, tunnels and public transportation.
The TIC will also be tasked with:
- Releasing new products
- Supplemental provisions for toll concession model contracts
- A new guide on incorporating Federal-aid funding into P3s
- Develop model contracts that show how transportation projects can advance “high-road” labor practices
- Create good, middle-class jobs and benefit current and aspiring workers alike
- Provide an example for other federal agencies as they work to support public private partnerships moving forward