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7/6/2011
US Senate Leader Introduces Bill to Block Road Privatization
Bill would force states to pay back federal contribution before leasing highways to private companies.

Senator Dick DurbinA member of the US Senate leadership is looking to stop states and cities from selling America's freeways and airports to private companies. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), the assistant majority leader, introduced the Protecting Taxpayers in Transportation Asset Transfers Act on June 17 to rein in governments officials who would sell off roads to meet short-term budget needs, leaving motorists to pay far more in the long run in tolls and other fees.

"The federal government provides states and local governments billions of dollars to build, maintain and improve transportation projects around the country," Durbin said in a statement. "The last transportation bill alone provided states with an average of $48 billion per year for upgrades to roads, bridges and mass transit systems. Any deal to sell or lease these assets should be closely examined and include a return on the federal taxpayer investment."

Durbin was particularly upset by Chicago's deal to lease its parking meters to Morgan Stanley for $1.2 billion. Nearly all of this money was spent by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, leaving drivers to pay massive increases in the cost of parking that will add up to an estimated $11.6 billion over 75 years.

"This legislation protects against fire sales of our existing public assets while making certain the public's interest is fully protected in future public/private partnership agreements," the House sponsor of the legislation, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), said in a statement.

The legislation directs the US Department of Transportation to place a lien on public transportation assets so they cannot be sold or transferred without the value of the federal expenditure on construction, maintenance and upgrades being returned to the US Treasury. Transportation assets include freeways, mass transit, airports and railroads worth more than $500 million or where the federal contribution exceeds $25 million.

The legislation also imposes conditions on any lease deal to increase transparency. Companies must disclose conflicts of interest, the estimated tax benefits and financing transactions over the life of the lease, the amount of increased tolls over the life of the deal, changes made to the workforce, and revenue estimates over the life of the deal. State governments must justify the deal in terms of the public interest and disclose the likely impact on nearby roads. In the event the private company goes bankrupt, ownership of the asset must return to the state. The contract with the private company must also be posted online 90 days before the deal can be approved.

A copy of the legislation is available in a 190k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File S. 1230 (US Senate, 6/16/2011)



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