On November 18th, Political Research Associates published a new report “Privatizing Massachusetts: The Right-Wing’s Blue State Game Plan” outlining the role that right-wing think tanks have played in shaping Massachusetts policy in recent years.
“In October, the Fiscal and Management Control Board overseeing MBTA, Boston’s public transit system, took quick action after determining the hardware and software used to track fare collections was faulty. The governor-appointed body decided to fire all the employees who count the money and outsource their work to a private company instead. The move had some people scratching their heads — why not fix the technology if that was the source of the problem?
“It’s as if a supermarket chain decided to replace its cashiers and supervisors because their cash registers aren’t working properly,” said Rafael Mares, Vice President and Program Director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice program who regularly attends the fiscal control board’s meetings.
But what if shrinking government itself is a major goal, perhaps even bigger than fixing public transit? Your confusion ends. And that is the stated goal of The Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, the right-leaning think tank that seems to be everywhere these days—including on the MBTA control board. You find Pioneer people, past and present, as regulars on Boston public radio’s RadioBoston, writing op-eds for struggling newspapers, and even leading the state as governor.”
We all know that investments are needed to fix our crumbling infrastructure – to build better roads and bridges, and drive improvements in public transportation. So, does it matter how they get built?
This is a pressing question as the new presidential administration has pointed to infrastructure investment as one of its priorities, with private industry playing a key role. Because when it comes to Public Private Partnerships the devil is in the details, and what’s at stake is the democratic governance of our cities, towns and land.
More and more in recent years politicians have turned towards Public Private Partnerships, also called P3s, as the way to get around chronic funding gaps that are the result of years of disinvestment. Rather than contend with the deficit, politicians have turned to P3s as a quick fix – a way to get an influx of cash up front, but at the cost of public control, transparency and often the long-term interests of their constituents.
P3s broadly refer to the use of private capital to finance public projects, but the reality is that the term has become a catch-all that can hide enormous differences. Government has always hired private companies to build public infrastructure like roads and buildings, so what makes this different? As explained in a recent Guide to Understanding and Evaluating Infrastructure Public Private Partnership released by In The Public Interest, infrastructure projects typically have five phases:
Traditionally, contractors have only been involved in the design and build parts of a project, but public private partnerships have come to be understood as a process in which all five parts of a project are privatized.
That shift takes democratic control of our public services away and gives it to private companies. So how can we tell if a P3 is a win-win agreement for the private company and for the public? According to In The Public Interest there are key questions that stakeholders can ask like “What are the long-term impacts on our city’s budget? How many jobs will be created, will they be local, and what will the wages and benefits be?” to ensure transparency and accountability, and that the communities’ needs are met.