Democrats At Odds With Gov., GOP Over Public-Private Partnerships
(Updated 9 p.m.) A proposal to use public-private partnerships in the construction of some state projects has put the legislature’s Democratic majority at odds with Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and minority Republicans.
The controversial proposal, which is part of what is supposed to be the “bipartisan” jobs bill, has quieted lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Malloy, who addressed reporters briefly following a closed-door meeting with legislative leaders this afternoon, said the talks will resume around 6 p.m. Tuesday after they consult with “whomever they have to consult with on the finer points we’ve discussed.”
After the 6 p.m. meeting Malloy didn’t have much more to add.
“I think each of the leaders feel they have an obligation to brief their members before they read about it or hear about it in your publication or on your wave length,” Malloy said in a record-setting 48 second press conference where no questions were allowed to be asked.
Last week lawmakers heard from unions unhappy about the public-private partnerships which are being called P-3’s by the administration. The public-private partnerships were expected to include “design build” strategies and give some much needed work to a construction industry with an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent.
Unions told lawmakers they are concerned that these partnerships “however well-intentioned, reduce transparency, accountability, and oversight of public services.”
Sources say the state is focused on using the public-private partnerships to build revenue generating projects, such as parking garages. But there are examples from other cities and states that show these types of programs can be problematic.
“When you hear the two words, ‘design build,’ you should think of the two words, ‘Big Dig.’ That project was done by two huge multi-national companies—Bechtel and Parsons-Brinkerhoff—that formed a single consortium to design and build the tunnel under downtown Boston,” Ned Statchen, a bridge safety engineer in the Department of Transportation, told lawmakers last week.
“When things started going wrong, the private engineers and the private contractors just started blaming each other. That made for very little accountability and the state was left holding the bag,” he added.
Chicago’s parking meters were another example given at the public hearing. The city turned over the parking meters to a private company, which ended up increasing the parking fees beyond what residents felt was reasonable.
“The state should not be entering into an agreement that sets user fees 30 years out from today,” AFSCME Council 4 Director of Policy & Planning Peter Thor said. “We have no ability to know if that will be in the public interest years from now.”
He said public sector unions would like to work with lawmakers on this type of issue during the legislative session which starts in February.
Asked about where things stand, Malloy said public-private partnerships is one of the items they’re still talking about. He said people want to see some language.
“Probably we need some language that’s reflective that these things would be considered in situations where there’s income tied to it,” Malloy said giving the example of the parking garage.
Traditionally state agencies oversee capital projects and help coordinate the construction and design, but under P-3 agreements the administration could contract with one company to oversee everything from design to inspection. Unions warned that cutting out the public sector employees at agencies like the Department of Transportation will lead to another I-84 debacle.
Sources say Malloy is expected to ask the lawmakers to employ “design build” strategies using the $50 million “Fix-it-First” funding to repair state roads and bridges.
Legislative leaders declined to comment on their way back to their offices in search of a compromise.