Tag Archives: private activity bonds

Infrastructure, Part Two

Yesterday, I shared Adam Gopnik’s “take” on Republican objections to infrastructure investments. But it turns out that he is not the only one considering the ideological roots of the Right’s disinclination to invest tax dollars in public goods like  roads, bridges, and railroads.

A lengthy post at Daily Kos ticked off some specifics.

Over and above the general animus toward government, manifested in a desire to “starve the beast,” the post pointed to the Right’s continuing romance with privatization.

More than anything else, this privatization fetish explains Republicans’ efforts to gut and discredit public infrastructure, and it runs the gamut from disastrous instances of privatizing parking meters to plans to privatize the federal highway system.

There has been a good deal written about these and other efforts to outsource what we used to consider public functions, but there has been much less information available about a financing mechanism that makes these privatization deals much more lucrative–private activity bonds.

As the New York Times recently explained,

These deals involve so-called “qualified private activity bonds,” which state and local governments issue on behalf of corporations. The bonds allow companies to borrow at low rates, while the bondholder doesn’t owe federal tax on interest. (If a corporation issued its own bond, it would pay a higher rate and the bondholder would owe tax on interest.) As an article in today’s Times explains, the justification for this sort of treatment is that a private project will fulfill a public need. In practice, it often looks like pork by another name, worth roughly $5 billion a year to corporations that could afford to invest without a subsidy, or to vanity projects — like a winery in North Carolina, a golf resort in Puerto Rico and a Corvette museum in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, across the board spending cuts threaten needless hardship and real suffering, and congressional Republicans won’t even talk about ending or trimming private-activity bond subsidies — or, for that matter, any individual or corporate tax breaks, which total $1.1 trillion annually. $1.1 trillion. That’s more than Medicare and Medicaid combined. It’s more than Social Security. It’s nearly two thirds more than the total cost of all non-defense discretionary spending, the category that includes infant formula for poor mothers and infants. Corporate welfare has never been so costly.

I have a friend who lobbies for socially-responsible organizations–environmental groups, human services nonprofits and the like. When I ask him why the legislature has done thus-and-so he just smiles and tells me to “follow the money.”

These days, greed–masquerading as “creative financing” or “economic development”– consistently trumps the common good.