Friday, October 26, 2007

"Do we really want foreign business using our eminent domain powers for their profit?"

Toll roads? Maybe, but public ones.

October 26, 2007

The Huntsville Times (Alabama)
Copyright 2007

Giving the money away is just plain dumb

I'm against the public-private toll road ventures suggested by Gov. Bob Riley, as the public is always the one to suffer in these deals.

Businessmen always want to privatize the profits and socialize the risks. We have local proof of that in the abuse of our Big Spring Park. As usual the public was ill-served by business interest and public officials.

For some reason the Bush Administration has been pushing these public-private partnerships (PPPs) on the states. Maybe as a prelude to the North American Union? Do we really want foreign business using our eminent domain powers for their profit?

There should be the same outcry about these foreign road deals as there was over the purchase of our ports by Dubai.

In July 2005 President Bush signed a bill allowing tolls to be charged on existing and planned interstates, bridges and tunnels. What is the gas tax supposed to be used for? If it's not enough, raise it, or have publicly owned toll roads.

Toll road owners such as Spain's Cintra and Australia's Macquarie Infrastructure Group and Sweden-based Skanska tend to benefit from the move to private infrastructure bonds because their tax-exempt status would keep interest rates and funding costs low. But not profits, the Indiana Toll Road is expected to bring in $100 billion in profits.

It's bad enough that business will outsource our jobs, but do they have to outsource the profits also? The move would also bring lucrative fees to Wall Street banks and others for underwriting and trading tax-exempt debt. Apparently the only ones to truly benefit financially is the private non-American companies.

Ellen Dannin, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who has written on privatization, said private companies are not necessarily more efficient at running roads and their tolls amount to a regressive tax on highway building. She also said this transfer of important functions from public to private control should be at the center of a national debate.

It is about money and quality of service, but it involves much more. It affects our national security, our personal security and our finances. Despite this, there has been silence - except from privatization ideologues who cheerlead every movement from public to private control.

Spain's Cintra is already a major player in the U.S. toll-road business in Texas and Chicago, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry will not even release the details of the agreement with Cintra. That alone should show the Alabama public how corrupting these public-private deals are.

I have hopes that The Huntsville Times and other newspapers will do some investigative reporting on how poorly this road system is done in other states.

If necessary, Alabama should raise taxes and/or operate any toll roads themselves. Why give control of our roads to overseas businessmen? And at a financial loss to ourselves? Are we that dumb?

Guy Thompson lives in Huntsville. Reader submissions to Community Focus should be about 500 words. E-mail to

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