When Measure M passed last year with its billions of dollars for public transit in Los Angeles, I was thrilled. VICA worked hard to pass the ballot measure, and every single one of the projects we identified as critical for the San Fernando Valley was included on Metro’s expenditure plan.
But already, I want more for the Valley: I want our projects to be completed faster, so that my family and neighbors can start benefitting from the vision we created.
There’s an advertisement slogan that you see on billboards and TV – “get the product today and pay nothing for a year.” Usually those offers are just too good to be true – but there’s a version of that offer to public agencies and it can be one of the smartest ways to finance major infrastructure projects.
Public-private partnerships are commonly known as P3. It allows us to build critical infrastructure projects which provide an immediate economic benefit, and pay for the project while it’s being used.
There are so many benefits of P3 that it’s almost hard to know where to start. They allow us to harness private capital for public projects; they result in demonstrably faster project completion; they reduce construction costs; and they shift much of the risk of the project from the taxpayer to the private partner.
Sounds good, right? When they’re used shrewdly, there’s pretty much no downside to us as the taxpayer, as the transit user and as the business community.
For the San Fernando Valley, P3 makes sense for many major projects, including the new and improved transportation infrastructure which we’re going to build with our Measure M dollars.
This is how it works: instead of saving the revenue from the Measure M sales tax over the next few decades until we have enough capital to build these projects, we can start building now and use the sales tax revenue to pay back the costs while we’re benefitting from our improved transit network.
We know that less traffic and more transit options will drive economic growth, too, so initiating a P3 will increase our sales tax revenue and complete this virtuous circle.
Because the private partner is responsible for delivering the project, it’s in their interest to make sure the project is completed on time and within budget. If not, they pay the price, not the taxpayer. This helps ensure that projects are delivered on time, and if they are not, the private partner bears the risk of increased costs associated with late delivery.
The United Kingdom has used public private partnerships for years, and their Government Audit Office found that only 24 percent of projects built through P3 were delivered late – compared to 70 percent of non-P3 projects.
P3 is the future of infrastructure projects. Unfortunately, one union is stuck in the past. A bill which would have ensured that these important partnerships can continue to thrive for California highway projects was halted by a union called Professional Engineers in California Government. SB 768 by Sen. Ben Allen would have simply removed the sunset date to allow these partnerships to continue. Without this extension, Caltrans will not be able to benefit from P3 contracts to improve our state highways.
Local government agencies in Los Angeles know the importance of leveraging federal infrastructure dollars using public private partnerships. There are many successful examples of projects which have been completed or are underway through P3 all over the world, and Los Angeles needs to be smart enough to learn from these experiences.
As we gear up to transform the San Fernando Valley’s transit system, improving the quality of life for millions of residents, we need to use every tool in our toolbox. Public private partnerships harness the power that private businesses can bring to public projects – capital, expertise and efficiency – which will drive economic growth and improve everyday life for us all.
Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.