Remember the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress last November?
All that money will soon be spent on repairing roads, fixing bridges, replacing lead water pipes, expanding public transit, and building all kinds of new infrastructure in the biggest cities and smallest rural towns nationwide. In the words of the White House, it will “deliver economic revitalization to communities that have been overburdened, underserved, and left behind.”
That’s if we pay attention and hold our state and local leaders accountable.
When it comes to infrastructure, the federal government is just a bank. Virtually all of it is built by state and local governments, decided on by governors, legislators, mayors, councilmembers, administrators, and other public officials.
We need to make sure they spend that money on what our communities actually need rather than giving it to corporations and the ultra-wealthy.
There have been a few worrying developments.
As we wrote when it was signed, the bill includes incentives for state and local governments to sign public-private partnerships. These so-called “partnerships” are essentially expensive loans that hand some level of control over roads, water systems, school buildings, and other public infrastructure to corporations and private investors. Despite the warm and fuzzy name, they’re definitely a form of privatization.
Also, states have begun to establish infrastructure coordinators to make recommendations on how to best spend the new federal money.
Arkansas chose Becky Keogh, secretary for the state’s Department of Energy and Environment—and former executive at C2HM, a global engineering company with a long history of signing public-private partnerships with governments.
New Mexico chose former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, who is now senior advisor to P3GM, a tech startup focused on public-private partnerships.
As I wrote, along with Allen Mikaelian, in our new book The Privatization of Everything, “Infrastructure is more than roads, rails, and bridges; infrastructure is economic destiny. Decisions about how and where to invest have lasting consequences on local economies, and from there they shape local lives.”
That’s why we, the public, need to weigh in on where and how the infrastructure money is spent. We can’t let big banks and multinational corporations siphon it off through privatization.
Let us know if your town or state is talking about contracting out or signing a public-private partnership to lease out existing or build new infrastructure. We’ll help you understand what they’re talking about and how to intervene.
These resources will help you know what to look out for:
- 10 Questions to Ask Before Any Privatization Deal
- A Guide to Understanding and Evaluating Contracts for Public Services
- Why You Should Be Wary of Privatization
- Insourcing Often Leads to Better Service and Cost-Savings
Photo by SparkFun Electronics.