After the experience with the private-public partnership concept in Warren, any broad adoption of the philosophy by government affecting this community worries us.
House Bill 3, which passed the state House in May and is now in committee in the Senate would amend Pennsylvania's transportation act to allow for private-public partnerships for transportation projects in the Commonwealth.
According to the fiscal note attached to the bill, essentially a talking paper, the legislation "Defines a 'public-private transportation partnership' as a binding agreement transferring the rights for use or control, whether in whole or in part, of a transportation facility by PennDOT or a proprietary public entity to a development entity for a term not to exceed 99 years. A public-private transportation partnership may include a development entity providing a service such as maintenance, operation, user fee collection, design, construction, and/or development of new transportation facilities." Although the Pennsylvania Turnpike would still need an act of the General Assembly to be privatized, the rest of the transportation facilities of the state are apparently fair game.
Harrisburg seems to be telling us, "We just can't seem to get our act together, so we're encouraging private enterprise to take over, assuming the profit motive will accomplish things that we can't. (And, get us off the hook for making difficult decisions.)"
Thus the game plan:
A few years ago the City of Warren climbed on that P3 bandwagon. It is now dabbing salve on its scratches and tending its bruises. In less than half a decade dreams of turning the downtown into a national laboratory dedicated to public-private partnerships have faded into dust. The political fallout from failed aspirations is still toxic.
Even the purveyor of the P3 concept in Warren recently jettisoned the public segment of his own project, which lies fallow after three years of false starts.
While not opposing HB-3 outright, we feel compelled to urge the Senate to tread carefully. Mixing government and business is fraught with pitfalls and sticky webs.