Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Public sentiment is solidly against selling off taxpayer-owned assets. Especially to foreign companies."

Americans Highways Being Sold To Highest Bidder

Portions of interstate highway systems built with your tax dollars are now being sold to the highest bidder.

And incredibly, it's being done with the federal government's encouragement. The Bush administration likes this idea. Some of the leading bidders: Foreign investors.


Lisa Sylvester reports.
Lou Dobbs Tonight (transcript)
Cable News Network
Copyright 2007


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wall Street is paving the road to highway privatization, with help from the Bush administration. Nearly 50 investors submitted bids to buy or lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Indiana and Illinois have already signed over its toll roads to a group of foreign investors. And other states are eyeing privatization as a quick fix.

ROBERT POOLE, REASON FOUNDATION: People are frustrated, both public sector people and citizens are frustrated that their roads are very congested, they are overcrowded with trucks. There's not enough capacity. And yet nobody really wants to raise gas taxes.

SYLVESTER: Transportation Secretary Mary Peters offered model legislation, encouraging states to tap into the billions of dollars that the private sector and lenders have amassed to invest in transportation.

But Congressman Peter DeFazio says it is a deal for corporations and investors, no deal for taxpayers.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D), OREGON: These private interests would have the power of eminent domain, and they basically would have unlimited authority over the term of the contract to raise tolls. A private entity beyond the reach of any future state legislature, governor, or Congress under contract.

SYLVESTER: Critics also call it fiscally irresponsible. States receive a lump sum up front. Future generations receive no toll revenues. And public sentiment is solidly against selling off taxpayer-owned assets. especially to foreign companies.

In Indiana, more than twice as many people were against the deal than were for it. The transportation groups are dismayed the Bush administration has officially backed these private-public arrangements.

TODD SPENCER, INDEPENDENT DRIVERS ASSN.: We were stunned. We were amazed, but I'd have to say, unfortunately, we were not shocked. They have been shopping this idea, this draft legislation, this proposal to states for over a year now and, you know, to them, rather than responsible transportation policy, their answer is to sell-off our highways. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Despite the many concerns, privatizing highways is gaining momentum across the country. Legislation is expected to be introduced in Pennsylvania in the coming weeks that will call for a long-term lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Right now, Lou, the leading bidders are from Australia and Spain -- Lou.

DOBBS: It -- I mean, this is just -- it's incredible. The ideas that are being put forward to avoid public responsibility, the idea that a state government or an authority of any kind could sell infrastructure, highways, it just boggles the imagination.

SYLVESTER: This, if there's ever been an example of where private corporate interests and the Bush administration are sort of working hand-in-hand, this is a perfect example of that, Lou. And, unfortunately, the average person, the average consumer, may not be a winner out of all of this, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, if they're not aware, we're going to do our best to make them aware. The idea that whether it's Indiana where it's 2-1 opposition and yet they went ahead and sold that highway in Indiana, the fact that people haven't got the energy and the commitment to stop these kinds of -- I mean, this is public treasure infrastructure, national assets, that are being given away, sold away to interest, private interests.

It's, as I say, mind-boggling. Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester from Washington. Lisa will be following this story throughout.

© 2007 Cable News Network: www.transcripts.cnn.com