The citizens have spoken: ‘give us PPPs!’

With Pennsylvania steeped in fiscal morass, an internet lobby group is pressing a methodical governor to get cracking on public-private partnership legislation.

Point to a bridge in his home state and lawyer Frank Rapoport is prone to make a disquieting prediction: the 50-50 chance that said bridge is either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete”. That kind of sobering assessment has gained political coinage with Governor Tom Corbett. It also prompted Rapoport to support a weblog calling for private investment in public infrastructure in the Quaker State.   

The blog, www.citizens4rebuildingpa.com, is a bid to “stir up” state legislature, said Rapoport, a partner with Philadelphia law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge and chair of its global infrastructure and public-private partnership (PPP) practice. Triad, a homegrown strategic consultant, established Citizens  for Rebuilding Pennsylvania because “the private sector in the state needs a single, independent voice to begin the dialogue and to promote the feasibility, likelihood and scope” of state-based PPPs, as well as “harness the power of the private sector for the public good in our state,” according to the website.

Private sector support from Rapoport and Triad aside, Corbett in April assembled a commission to explore PPPs, and in December hired boutique investment bank Greenhill & Co. to aid the working group. New York-headquartered Greenhill can in fact boast Edward “Ed” Rendell as a part-time special adviser. Rendell as Pennsylvania governor tried, without success, to privatise the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 2007.  

Presiding over a $700 million fiscal deficit, Governor Corbett has unveiled a “lean and demanding” proposal calling for a $20 million budget cut. And while his administration has deemed a revisited potential lease or sale of the state turnpike as “not on the table”, Corbett himself has been credited for his open-minded approach to reviewing PPPs – though critics say ‘slow-moving’ would also be a relevant description. Meanwhile, state representative Richard Geist, chairman of the house transportation committee, has emerged as the foremost champion of PPPs. Geist, in fact, is responsible for penning ‘house bill 3,’ the pro-PPP legislation which is set for an impending senate vote, and has contributed a guest post to Citizens.    

“I think Governor Corbett is very deliberative,” Rapoport says, citing a vote on the PPP bill that was twice deferred in 2011. “But as a state, we have the oldest infrastructure in America, and people in construction and real estate who want to work”.