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NATIONAL JOURNAL—There Are Three P's in PPP's

[As posted by Ed Wytkind in the National Journal]

The growing popularity of looking to public-private partnerships (PPPs) to fund our transportation systems cannot allow us to lose sight of the need to both protect the public interest and make the strong federal investments in infrastructure that will rebuild our country, grow our economy, and improve our quality of life.

There will always be a robust role for the private sector in transportation, as there should be. But as a threshold matter, longstanding worker protections must be applied to these projects and rules that safeguard the rights of workers must be honored. PPPs and innovative financing measures cannot be used as a mechanism to eliminate collective bargaining rights or worker protections as part of a business model designed to increase profits by driving down wages and benefits.

Simply relying more on private dollars will not go far enough to maintain, modernize and build our nation’s transportation infrastructure. The trendy, short-sighted politics of austerity measures risk creating a dangerous “new normal” that locks in place anemic investment levels and our growing inability to recognize infrastructure projects for what they are and always have been—job creating opportunities.

In transportation, the private sector’s contributions and ingenuity are vital. But the private sector itself says that without robust, long-term public sector investment the private sector and its capacity to create jobs will suffer. It is those public investments that will be a magnet for private sector dollars. That is why there are three (not two) Ps in PPPs. If the federal government does not step up, we will continue to be a nation losing its competitive edge, hampered by gridlock and saddled with unnecessarily high unemployment numbers.

Austerity comes at a high price, too high for the private sector to cover the tab.

This nation has a legacy of funding and building great infrastructure projects that have benefited generations of Americans that span our country from the Erie Canal to our interstate highway system to the Transcontinental Railroad and our elaborate aviation and port/maritime networks.

No level of private investment can relieve our government from its responsibility to keep our nation strong by moving on critical, long-term infrastructure projects that require a skilled, well-trained and experienced workforce to get the job done.