Op-Ed | Public-private partnerships, a creative tool to rescue nation’s failing infrastructure

The following is an op-ed from Kentucky Chamber Vice President of Public Affairs Ashli Watts.

Ashli Watts
Ashli Watts

It seems like everyone is being forced to do more with less. With billions in unfunded pension liability, driving the need for a special session on comprehensive tax reform in the fall, not only is state government looking carefully at spending, but so are local governments.

In May the Kentucky Chamber released a report “A Citizen’s Guide to Infrastructure” which notes that Kentucky’s state budget is under pressure – from public pensions, Medicaid costs and other programs – making money hard to come by to address critical infrastructure problems. But it also points to an area of possible progress as the Kentucky Chamber calls for the aggressive use of the state’s public private partnership (P3) law to leverage private-sector investments to expand and maintain the infrastructure that is so essential to the economic growth of the Commonwealth.

With tight budget times Kentucky localities will need to be smart, creative, open minded and innovative to ensure infrastructure projects move forward. One way to accomplish this is usage of Kentucky’s new public-private partnership (P3) law.

This is why the Kentucky Chamber worked hand in hand with the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) and Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) to create a P3 framework that ensures local governments have every tool at their disposal to maintain and improve their infrastructure.

Kentucky’s P3 law creates a solution for government and the business community to come together to accomplish projects in an innovative fashion that would not be able to be done by either side alone. Kentucky’s law is now the model for states because of its broad nature, local control and proper oversight of taxpayer dollars. Over 30 states have P3 legislation and now more than ever, we need to utilize this tool to invest in our nation’s infrastructure.

However, P3 projects are not the silver bullet in fixing our infrastructure needs. The Chamber believes that we must look at a comprehensive plan to ensure our transportation system does not crumble. This includes not only utilizing P3, but also raising the gas tax, which hasn’t been increased since 1993, and streamlining permitting for transportation projects so they can be completed in a timely, cost-efficient manner.

Recently, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s system a D+ grade overall. With Kentuckian Elaine Chao serving as Transportation Secretary, Kentucky is primed to be at the forefront of a true revitalization of our infrastructure system. This is critical to business leaders as they know our nation’s transportation system is a national asset which fuels economic development, creates jobs and enhances our overall competitiveness. With bipartisan support for properly investing in infrastructure, now is the time to use every resource at our disposal to make sure we make meaningful progress.

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