Outsourcing Our Political Will

A hat tip to the reader who forwarded this article in Mother Jones about toll roads. The article focuses on the privatization of the Indiana Tollway:

The deal to privatize the Toll Road had been almost a year in the making. Proponents celebrated it as a no-pain, all-gain way to off-load maintenance expenses and mobilize new highway-building funds without raising taxes. Opponents lambasted it as a major turn toward handing the nation’s common property over to private firms, and at fire-sale prices to boot.

It turns out that Goldman Sachs was both an advisor to the State and leads an investment group raising funds for privatization of roads. Maybe that explains some of those record bonuses.

Goldman Sachs’ role has not been lost on skeptics, who accuse the firm of playing both sides of the fence. “In essence, they’re double-dipping,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a truckers’ group that opposes toll road privatization. “They’re basically in the middle, playing one side against the other, and it’s really, really lucrative.”

So perhaps that’s how we’re ultimately going to deal with our trade deficit: we’ll sell off all our freeways to the nations that hold our debt, then they can charge us rent to use our own roads?

But, enter Oregon’s own Peter DeFazio, the incoming chair of the Surface Transportation Sub-committee:

The hearing was a fairly docile affair—that is, until Oregon’s Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, got his turn questioning Daniels. “So you’re saying that there’s no political will to raise the tolls,” he began, “but if you enter into a binding contract which gives a private entity the right to infinitely raise tolls, then that’ll happen—but politically you couldn’t say we’re going to go out and raise the tolls.”

“Well, you’re a busy man, Congressman,” Daniels responded dryly. “I don’t expect you to understand our state.”

“No, sir. I’m just asking a question,” DeFazio shot back, his voice rising. “Are we outsourcing political will to a private entity here?”

Can we find the political will to have a rational investment strategy that keeps our public infrastructure public?

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