An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal becomes the latest to jump on Congressmen Oberstar and DeFazio for their warning letter to state officials about public-private partnerships. They rightly point out the Congressman’s self interest in his opposition.
In reality, Mr. Oberstar’s main concern is protecting the political interests of himself and fellow Transportation Committee Members. All 75 of them — about one-sixth of the entire House. His committee is by far Congress’s most bloated, and its main order of business is shepherding through the lard-ridden highway bill every six years. Road financing got federalized back in the 1950s for the purposes of building the Interstate Highway System. Today that system is nearly complete, and Transportation has become little more than a public works committee, with the highway bill serving as a vehicle for Members to hand out checks to favored constituents. The last highway bill cost $295 billion, a third larger than its predecessor, and included 6,400 “special projects” — bike paths, museums, snowmobile trails, parking lots — that totaled $23 billion. These days, when the money does go toward actual road construction, it is often of the “Bridge to Nowhere” variety. Which is why states are finding public-private funding more and more attractive.
Public-private partnerships have become a proven tool to get new projects up and running — and as the WSJ points out, that’s what scares the Congressman. You can read more about it here and here and here and here. Also check out my colleague Ted Balaker take on Congressman DeFazio on CNBC here.