In a sign of what some believe may be the growing strength of opponents to public-private partnerships, a bill that would have made it easier for the partnerships to take shape has died in a California legislative committee.
Assembly Bill 1756, a measure that would have established a statewide office to assist local agencies with implementing public-private partnerships, was defeated in mid-April in the Assembly Business & Professions Committee.
The bill, 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, the bill would have provided a resource for local governments to be better partners in the delivery of infrastructure projects.
Taylor says the main opposition and lobbying came from public employee unions, which are concerned primarily about lost jobs. Construction, trade and engineering groups lamented what they labeled as a lost opportunity.
"PPPs are the wave of the future," says Mark Breslin, chief executive of the Engineering & Utility Contractors Association, based in San Ramon, Calif. "The public sector's opposition is pure self interest at the expense of the millions of users of public facilities demanding better infrastructure solutions. With a trillion dollars in deferred infrastructure investment we must consider every avenue, solution and strategy."
Tom Holsman, chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of California, says that although the association is sorry this issue has become political and has been opposed by special interests, "we'll engage with the public unions and with the governor's support, we'll work to get the issue addressed in the next legislative session."
"It was difficult to watch elected officials profess their support for local government working in partnership with the private sector to build badly needed infrastructure and then fail to vote in support of the tools local government needs to do just that," says Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters.
And Paul Meyer, executive director of the Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California, agreed, saying that given the "crumbling state of California s existing infrastructure, California really needs bills like AB 1756.
"In the long run, voting down a bill to give local agencies a one-stop-shop for information on PPPs will only slow the process of getting projects through the pipeline. CELSOC applauds Assemblywoman Caballero for her efforts to help California catch up with the rest of the nation and many countries around the world in the use of PPPs."
The PPP model has been widely successful throughout the world. In California, one of the state's landmarks—the Golden Gate Bridge—was a public-private partnership before the term was used, according to CELSOC.
The modern version of PPPs was initiated in Australia and Canada has also been active on a number of projects, from highways to courthouses. But lately there has been more opposition to the partnerships.
Taylor insisted that Assemblywoman Caballero is "committed" to the issue and that local governments already have the ability to do PPPs, but "having a place to go for legal issues and assistance in forming agreements" would be a prime motivator and cost-saver.
"There's lots of misinformation out there," she says.