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Do You Want to Pay a Toll to Private Investors When You Ride Trump's Federal Highways? That's His Infrastructure Pitch

January 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

$200 billion taken from other programs. Taxpayers borrow $800 billion plus interest. Then come tolls and user fees.

As President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address Tuesday, pay close attention to his next big priority—an infrastructure plan, which over time, could eclipse the trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich in the GOP’s just-passed tax plan.

And track the response from Democrats, who will have to decide if they will back a plan drafted by privatization proponents, or if Democrats will represent the public and say no to years of paying off infrastructure bonds sold by Wall Street—tax free to investors—but eating up future tax revenues while imposing new user fees like highway tolls.

“[The GOP-passed] tax cuts have slowly opened the door to Wall Street, construction giants, and global water companies, who see enormous potential for profits,” wrote Donald Cohen, president of In the Public Interest, an anti-privatization advocacy group. “Some states and local governments have turned to expensive private financing, a.k.a., ‘public-private partnerships,’ and learned the hard way. Private financing often means higher tolls, parking rates, or water fees, lower labor standards, and less public control over decision-making once a project is up and running.”

The stakes are enormous. Pick a state: Few major infrastructure projects have come in on time and on budget. New York City’s newly opened Second Avenue subway was years behind and billions over-budget in that blue state. In red-run Indiana, ex-governor and now Vice President Mike Pence’s signature privatized highway, I-69, is a 21-mile stretch of road that is two years behind and 60 percent built. The vast sums spent by taxpayers are as big as the potential for corruption and outright profiteering.

Why is this pattern so pervasive? In a profile of New York’s billions-over-budget transit projects, Politico noted a widely cited Danish study of global infrastructure projects that observed, “underestimation of costs at the time of decision to build is the rule rather than the exception for transportation infrastructure projects…and we arrive at one of the most basic explanations of lying, and of cost underestimation, that exists: …read more


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