Could Federal Guidance Make Public-Private Partnerships Easier?

Matt Bevilacqua takes a look at a new policy proposal that could pool expertise to help municipalities better coordinate public-private partnerships, "supporting bottom-up infrastructure investment" from the top down.
November 19, 2012, 10am PST | Ryan Lue
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When cities find themselves too strapped for cash to make necessary investments in new development and infrastructure, public-private partnerships (or PPPs, for short) often provide the capital or expertise needed to set projects in motion. In light of the pitfalls of negotiating deals between business and state, the Brookings Institute released a paper last week urging the federal government to establish a unit to harness the expertise needed to facilitate such deals.

As Bevilacqua explains, "drawing up a contract between a city and private funders can be complicated and, in some cases, politically unpalatable (New York’s PPP-backed Brooklyn Bridge Park faced criticism and even lawsuits over its funding source)." Still, PPPs have proven valuable enough for similar governmental organizations to emerge in Italy, the United Kingdom, and the Philippines.

"We hear over and over again that there is not enough capacity and expertise to get these complicated deals done," writes Robert Puentes, author of the report. "So the idea is that a sophisticated, efficient federal unit could provide that advice and technical assistance on a voluntary basis."

Bevilacqua further notes that such projects could be critical in overcoming political obstacles: "In an era when, say, state governors are rejecting federal dollars for light rail projects, shifting some responsibility onto the private sector is one way to get big-government skeptics on board with infrastructure investment."

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Published on Thursday, November 15, 2012 in Next American City
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