As Ky. Chamber pushes for public-private partnerships, what does that mean for the next bridge project?

08/14/2013 10:47 AM

While the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is calling for more public-private partnerships on infrastructure projects, the group’s president said it’s stopping short of advocating that for a new Northern Kentucky bridge.

Such a structure for the multi-billion dollar project would almost certainly mean tolls.

“We have not taken a position on the Brent Spence Bridge. We have, however, as a policy measure said we are for infrastructure investments that help commerce move forward and clearly we can’t do without a bridge in Northern Kentucky that carries I believe four percent of the nation’s gross domestic per day across that bridge,” said Chamber of Commerce President David Adkisson (10:00 of the interview). “So, we are in favor of improvements to infrastructure and we have gone as far to say that will sometimes require creative financing. We have not gone beyond that to take a position on tolls.”

Now that construction is beginning on two new bridges in Louisville, attention has turned to plans to build a new bridge to run parallel to the Brent Spence Bridge across the Ohio River, carrying I-71 and I-75 traffic between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

Kentucky’s government can save more money and potentially improve service by handing over select functions to private firms, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has argued in its latest report.

Adkisson said local and state governments should use that model of working with the private sector to provide services like state parks, food services, water treatment, and yes, roads and bridges. (7:20)

The chamber has increasingly injected itself into public policy as it advocates for more resources to educate and train the future workforce in Kentucky. And Adkisson has said the budgeting priorities in Kentucky have been “bass-ackwards.”

“Problem is – is that you do those things and you build prisons, because we all want to be tough on crime, and you pay health insurance benefits for public employees and treat it as a fixed cost that’s basically unquestioned. And then you say OK what’s left over and let’s spend that on our schools. We think that ought to be the other way around,” Adkisson said at 1:29 in the interview.

Public-private partnerships are working, he said, on campuses of public universities, such as new dorms at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

“They’re doing that without going to Frankfort and begging for a pot of money. They’ve done it by bringing in private developers and private financing, and said hey lets do this based upon the rent we’ll get that we will get by renting dormitory rooms for the next 20 years,” Adkisson said (5:30).

As for addressing some of the big-ticket state expenses, Adkisson described reforms to the state’s pension system as a “significant” start. But he said the system’s financial health must be monitored and managed closely, and state leaders need to examine the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System next.

“The pension reform of this last session was very significant and the pension reform of ’08…where they redefined eligibility was also significant. Are we done – is the fix already in the can so to speak – no I think we will have to continue to monitor it,” Adkisson said (2:40).


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