Monday, March 19, 2007

“Hopefully we’ll come to our senses before we discover we don’t have public assets and we’re forced to pay outrageous fees to use what was once ours."

11th in a series

How to buy U.S.

March 19, 2007

Waxahachie Daily Light
Copyright 2007

A high-dollar seminar is under way this week in Miami relating to public private partnerships and investments such as the Trans-Texas Corridor in Texas.

David Stall of the anti-Trans-Texas Corridor group,, said he’s not surprised.

“We are seeing a couple of these PPP infrastructure seminars every year now,” Stall said. “On the international market our highways, ports, bridges and airports are hot commodities.”

If built out completely, the Trans-Texas Corridor would include 8,000 miles of tolled roadways criss-crossing the state of Texas. Republican Gov. Rick Perry has touted the benefits of utilizing public private partnerships in the construction of the massive transportation project he supports.

“A pressing demand for new and improved infrastructure has seen a surge in the popularity of public private partnership deals in the U.S.A. and Canada,” organizing company Euromoney Seminars notes in its online brochure. “This increase in deal volume necessitates governments, contractors, investors and financiers expanding and educating their teams to cope with the intricacies and sensibilities of these deals.”

The three-day seminar costs $3,499, with some discounting allowed for early registration and or multiple attendees.

According to the online brochure and media, government officials from across the nation not only attend the seminars but also participate as speakers.

According to a WorldNetDaily.Com article, officials from nine state departments of transportation, including those of Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Florida, Oregon, Alaska, Indiana and California attended a September 2006 conference on public private partnerships in New York City.

Two U.S. Department of Transportation officials are set to speak at an April seminar in San Francisco, along with transportation officials from California, Colorado and Oregon.

“It’s like we are giving away money, (and) in fact that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Stall said. “Hopefully we’ll all come to our senses before we discover we don’t have any public assets and we’re forced to pay outrageous fees to use what was once ours.”

Former candidate for state agriculture commissioner Hank Gilbert said it would be interesting to attend one of the seminars to see who is there, noting as an example, the USDOT officials set to speak in April.

According to Euromoney Seminar’s online brochure, Tyler Duvall, assistant secretary on transportation policy with the USDOT will speak on “The North American need for infrastructure development” and Mark Sullivan, director of USDOT’s TIFIA Credit Program, will be part of the “Road panel: Assessing the realities of the project pipeline” workshop.

Gilbert said he feels the United States is being “sold out by the real owners of our government - big business, to be more specific, U.S. companies that operate abroad.”

“NAFTA was what they needed to get the ball rolling, and now they want to invite their foreign friends to come play in the game,” he said.

“This is why stopping the TTC is so important. These companies feel that Texas and the TTC are done deals, so they can continue with their plans to take the rest of the country with privatized toll roads.”

Seminar topics

Workshops in the Miami seminar include the history of public private partnerships; basic structures and asset classes; the procurement and bidding process; documentation, legal and contractual issues; finding the value in deals; tax and accounting implications; exit strategies and refinancing; and the sensitivities of dealing with public funds.

Relating to tolling, the seminar will cover such topics as toll levying and toll collection, shadow tolls and the removal of tolls after the settlement of debt.

The seminar covers legal issues, public relations, bonds and case studies, including “lessons from the problems faced by the (United Kingdom) and Canadian government in the public perception of (public private partnerships).

The San Francisco seminar is billed as “a conference bringing together the key players from across the public private partnership deal chain.”

Scheduled topics include “PPP under the spotlight” and “Building the project: ‘Seventh Heaven’ or ‘Headache Hotel.’ ”

In a nod to the controversy about public private partnerships, the seminar includes workshops entitled “Case study analysis: Successful public relations campaigns,” “How to win over the public” and “Are some projects more prone to protest than others?”

Political ramifications of public private partnerships are addressed in several workshops: “Understanding the politics of PPP,” “A line in the sand? Assessing differences in Democrat and Republican attitudes towards PPP,” “Where are the legal and political pressure points and minefields to avoid?” and “Recent and likely changes at the federal, state and local levels.”

Euromoney Seminars notes in its brochure on the April conference that public private partnerships have played an “increasingly substantial role in infrastructure finance across the globe since the early 1990s.”

“It is fair to say North America has come fashionably late to the party,” the online brochure reads. “In light of several states’ ambitious plans for project development, North America is now the hot market for PPP. An infrastructure shortfall of an estimated $90 billion a year and a growing population in (the western United States) are putting pressure on the region’s transport resources and services.

“PPP projects are being looked at in anything from toll roads to municipal buildings, from airports to lotteries,” the brochure reads, adding, “This event will be a natural partner to our conference in New York. As the deal flow in North America continues to develop, delegates become hungrier for knowledge on this exciting and fast-paced market. As product innovation continues to blossom, topics become more detailed and wide-ranging.”

Investment opportunities

Perry wraps up a nine-day trip to the Middle East this week after participating in the dedication of a new engineering facility in Qatar that is a collaborative project between that country and Texas A&M University.

As part of the trip, the governor was expected to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates to have “a series of meetings to pursue economic development opportunities for Texas,” according to a press release from his office.

Dubai is one of the world’s largest investment capitals, according to the release, which notes, “With only 6 percent of its economy tied to the oil industry, Dubai is booming with investment and new construction.”

In Dubai, Perry was to visit with Trident International Holdings, a real estate development company looking to make its first investment in the United States. Perry also was expected to meet with business interests looking to build renewable energy projects in Texas during the trip, according to the release, as well as visit with officials of the Aga Khan Development Network concerning the building of an Ismaili Muslim Center in Houston.

In an e-mail response Sunday to the Daily Light, Perry’s spokesman, Robert Black, said the trip had “nothing to do with toll roads” and that more information about the trip would be available after the governor’s return Wednesday.

On the Internet

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