Private Sector’s Increasing Role in Infrastructure Investment

Today my colleague Leonard Gilroy and I published a piece on Real Clear Markets entitled, “States and Cities Going Private With Infrastructure Investment,” which explains “…that new infrastructure financing models and sources of capital will be the only viable option to support and sustain growth.” The challenge is simple: while governments at all levels are strapped for cash and continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession, they face pressing infrastructure needs.

Enter the private sector, where investors are demonstrating a willingness and capability to partner with governments to modernize and expand infrastructure, according to Reason Foundation’s recent Annual Privatization Report 2011. The report finds that the amount of capital available in private infrastructure equity investment funds reached a new all-time high last year. And since 2006, the 30 largest global infrastructure investment funds have raised a total of $183.1 billion dedicated to financing infrastructure projects; the bulk coming from U.S., Australian and Canadian inventors. In fact, eight major privately financed transportation projects were under construction in the U.S. in 2011 totaling over $13 billion.

Historically, U.S. policymaker interest in public-private partnerships has been in surface transportation, however 2012 ushered in a wave of new social infrastructure considerations (along the lines of what is already seen across in the developed world.)

For a preview of the future, just look to Puerto Rico, where innovative infrastructure financing has been a priority of Governor Luis Fortuño’s administration. Prior to his tenure, massive budget deficits and weak credit ratings left the territory with a limited ability to finance infrastructure. In fact, public infrastructure investment (as a share of GDP) had been on a steep decline in Puerto Rico since 2000.

Put simply, if Puerto Rico was going to maintain-much less expand and modernize-its infrastructure, it was going to need outside help. Policymakers proactively adopted a 2009 law authorizing government agencies to partner with private firms for the design, construction, financing, maintenance and/or operation of public facilities across a wide spectrum that includes transportation, ports, schools and other asset classes. The law also established a Public Private Partnership Authority (PPPA), a new unit of the Government Development Bank, to conduct due diligence on these infrastructure partnerships and take worthy projects to market in competitive procurements.

The piece goes on to highlight promising new efforts in Chicago, Texas, Connecticut and elsewhere, continuing:

Puerto Rico isn’t alone though. For example, Chicago Mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel stood with former President Bill Clinton last month to propose an ambitious $7.2 billion infrastructure program that will rely heavily on public-private partnerships and private financing for a broad spectrum of projects including roads, water, transit and more. To implement this program, city policymakers recently created a new Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a nonprofit infrastructure bank that can package deals and blend public and private financing to advance projects. Early pledges of up to $1 billion in private capital from several financial institutions, including Citibank, Macquarie and JPMorgan suggest the model may be viable.

Elsewhere, both Texas and Connecticut enacted broad-ranging laws to authorize private sector financing for state and local assets in 2011. In New York, The Yonkers Public Schools recently hired a team of financial, legal and technical consultants to evaluate the potential to tap private financing to help deliver a $2 billion K-12 school modernization program. Like Puerto Rico, Yonkers has a number of aging facilities over 70 years old that need reconstruction, yet lacks the ability to undertake large-scale renovation through traditional taxes and bonds given current fiscal and financial constraints.

We ultimately conclude that, “Infrastructure represents the arteries and capillaries of our economy, and if we let those deteriorate, the heart itself will soon follow.” Read the full piece available online here. For more on this policy area, read my colleague Leonard Gilroy’s previous post on Puerto Rico here.