Despite opposition from a public engineer union, a new bill addressing California’s use of public-private partnerships for construction projects will be heard Wednesday in the state assembly’s local government committee.

Two weeks ago, Assembly Bill 1756, a measure that would have established a statewide office to assist local agencies with implementing public-private partnerships, was defeated in the Assembly Business & Professions Committee mainly because of some heavy lobbying by the Professional Engineers in California Government, a representative of 13,000 engineers, architects, land surveyors and related professionals who work for the state of California. 

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  • PECG is adamantly against public-private partnerships as well as design-build project delivery, and label’s both methods as “proven taxpayer rip-offs,” according to its website. PECG says it saves taxpayers “hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” and it pressures the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to use state engineers exclusively on all its projects.

    “In general, all of the public-private partnership bills we’ve seen previously have had problems,” says Bruce Blanning, executive director of PECG. “They’re just bad public policy with no cost controls, no public involvement, lack of inspection of construction, just bad economics.”

    “We’re looking at this new one and will decide later, after our staff reads it, if our objections about AB 1756 were addressed.”

    Assembly Bill 1756, authored by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, would not have expanded agencies’ legal authority, but would have given local agencies access to the expertise and experience of other public agencies.

    According to Megan Taylor, chief spokeswoman for Assemblywoman’s Caballero’s office, had the bill been signed into law, it would have provided an effective resource for local governments to be better partners in the delivery of much-needed infrastructure projects statewide.

    The new bill, AB 2278, also authored by Assemblywoman Caballero and amended from a previous local government infrastructure bill (AB 2600), addresses some of PECG’s objections, says Taylor. Instead of setting up a new agency within the state department of Building, Transportation and Housing, the bill names the state Office of Planning and Research in the governor’s office to “advise and educate local agencies and other interested stakeholders about the role that public-private partnerships can play in planning, studying, designing, financing, constructing, operating, maintaining or managing local infrastructure projects.”

    It also addresses PECG’s concerns about protecting the public interest, Taylor says, adding that the language of the bill states that it is not the intent of the legislature to enact legislation that prejudices local agencies’ decisions about the use of a P3 as compared with the use of “traditional procurement methods or to promote the outsourcing of public sector jobs.”