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Thursday, 12 January 2017 06:43

We Should Not Allow Public Infrastructure Repair to Be Privatized by Trump

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2557176287 1b9161ff03 zPublic waterworks should not be managed by corporations. (Photo:[cipher] )

One of the rare areas on which Trump and Democrats appear to find some common ground is a goal of achieving infrastructure upgrading and modernization in the United States. However, Trump is more interested in enriching private contractors than meeting public need.

As Michelle Chen wrote in a December 2 article for The Nation:

Trump wants private investors to basically direct $1 trillion in infrastructure projects nationwide through a “revenue neutral” financing plan, which banks on financing from private investors, allegedly to control deficit spending (which the GOP generally deems wasteful, while promoting tax breaks as a wiser redistribution of public funds into corporate coffers). To draw some $167 billion to jumpstart the $1 trillion, 10-year infrastructure plan, Washington would grant a giant tax break “equal to 82 percent of the equity amount.” The goal isn’t fixing bridges so much as fixing the corporate tax codes to promote privatization and unregulated construction with virtually no public input.

Right after the election, some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, talked about working with Trump on issues such as an overhaul of our national infrastructure. However, if the Democrats allow the project to become a corporate profit center -- instead of focusing it on publicly planned initiatives for the common good -- they will have no one to blame but themselves.

Chen cites a study on the peril of privatizing infrastructure development and management:

In the Public Interest (ITPI) observed in a recent report on abuses of private contractors:

To maximize profit, companies have often cut corners by reducing the quality and accessibility of services, reducing staffing levels, lowering worker wages, and sidestepping protections for the public and the environment. “[T]he bottom line is that they will strip away standards, provide hefty subsidies and guaranteed profits and hand over control over large scale projects for decades,” according to ITPI executive director Donald Cohen.

Thus, the infrastructure project becomes another get rich scheme for the corporate pals of Trump, at the expense of the public.

On January 4, I received an email from the Rockland Water Coalition which calls attention to how infrastructure privatization has negatively impacted Rockland County in southern New York state, not far north of Manhattan. The coalition emphasized that taxpayers may have to foot the bill for a corporate desalination plant that cost millions of dollars to plan, but was never constructed. The Rockland Water Coalition's list of complaints against the company that runs their county water system sets the context for understanding the multiple problems that can come with the privatization of public resources. The email states:

In New York's Rockland County's, privatization is causing a backlash. Suez North America, a subsidiary of the $15 billion multinational Suez Environment, owns most of Rockland’s water infrastructure. Residents, officials and environmental groups are angry over its poor management of their water, and its inadequate plan to conserve it, on which New York’s Public Service Commission is about to rule. Service interruptions, metallic tastes, bad smells, and brown, unusable water are persistent complaints.

Suez already charges Rockland some of the highest water rates in the US, but wants additional rate increases to reimburse $54 million it spent planning an aborted desalination project. The Public Service Commission decided ratepayers are eligible to pay about $40 million of that plus interest, prompting a lawsuit from Rockland County.  An option of last resort for arid regions, the PSC rejected desalination for water-rich Rockland, and ordered Suez to increase supply in other ways, through conservation, repair of leaks, and smaller supply sources.

Ignoring stakeholder input, Suez then filed a plan which aims to do bare minimum to fix leaks and conserve water, proposes a botched rate redesign and lacks transparency or accountability.

One overarching statement here is that the water rates for residents of Rockland County are among "the highest rates in the US." After all, the mission of the corporate water infrastructure firms is to make a profit, not to seek out the best way to deliver services for the common good.

The Rockland Water Coalition supports "an emerging national trend towards 'remunicipalizing' privatized water resources where corporations have failed to manage them in the public interest." This goal is laudable. We should all look to these advocates' example in order to prevent Trump's plan for corporations to buy off the nation's infrastructure.