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Written by: Theresa Juva-Brown
MOUNT KISCO — The idea of using private-sector money to pay for public projects appears to be gaining new momentum after getting an unsuccessful push from Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year.
State Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, held a news conference Friday in Mount Kisco, where he announced plans to introduce legislation to permit public-private partnerships, which he said could be used to fund a future bus rapid transit system along the Tappan Zee Bridge/Interstate 287 corridor. Mass transit advocates have called for a bus network to be part of the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee replacement project, but state officials have said the cost — roughly another $5 billion — is one reason it can’t be done at the same time.
“This public-private partnership legislation is exactly the tool this governor needs to make sure we do the Tappan Zee project right and do it well,” Ball told reporters before a discussion on the topic with local elected officials, business leaders, and a panel of experts, including Richard Norment, executive director of the National Council for Public Private Partnerships.
Public-private partnerships, also known as P3s, allow private firms or union pension funds to invest in the construction and operation of public projects, such as highways and bridges. In return, the government agency makes fixed payments to them or gives a share of toll revenue. Norment emphasized that “this is not corporate philanthropy.”
Critics of P3s say taxpayers could be on the hook to ensure that private developers or pension funds get returns on their investments. P3 supporters argue that projects are completed more quickly and efficiently than if a public agency did it with limited dollars.
“The control stays with the public sector, ownership stays with the public sector. This is not privatization,” Norment said, with Ball adding that his bill would “make absolute certain that full protections are put in there for rate payers and taxpayers.”
The panel noted that some 30 states have already passed laws to allow the practice, including New Jersey, where NJ Transit uses P3s for some bus service.
The arrangement has also been used to finance a commuter rail line in Denver and a highway in Broward County, Fla.
The experts said most projects are paid back with toll revenue, but in the case of Denver’s commuter rail, a dedicated sales tax was implemented.
Norment said private developers may also agree to build a new bus or train station to spur economic growth in certain areas, with transit additions funded by a tax on local businesses.
Cuomo had voiced support for P3s last year, but the idea didn’t make into related legislation that was passed.
That legislation included a method called design-build, which is being used for the Tappan Zee replacement and lets designers and engineers work together on the project from the start.
Under the old way, the state designed the project and then put it out to bidders for construction.
Cuomo administration officials said Friday that a mass transit task force being created to study transit needs around the Tappan Zee will also explore ways to fund a system. (ARTICLE)