Congressmen warn Governor about Turnpike lease

From Having criticized the Governor in my previous post, I will give him praise for dismissing the anti-market rhetoric of two Democratic Congressmen.

HARRISBURG (May 16) – Two influential U.S. congressmen are warning Gov. Ed Rendell and other governors not to follow Chicago and Indiana in leasing their highways to private companies.

U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar, D-Minnesota, and Highways Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., released the letter on Monday.

Their letter arrived just as Gov. Ed Rendell continues to press to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a deal inspired by the Chicago and Indiana examples Oberstar and DeFazio deplore in their letter.

It also underscored a growing trend as Rendell battles to lease the turnpike to fund highway and road improvements in the state: he has more support from conservatives and Republicans on this issue than from his fellow Democrats, in Pennsylvania or nationally.

Rendell’s communications director, Doug Rohanna, responded: “The letter warns against rushing into any deal. We have not rushed in. We have done the opposite. We are taking our time. We are looking at all options and the Governor insists that any solution to the Transportation crisis must be in the best interest of the taxpayers and the driving public.

“The Governor’s goal for this effort mirrors their stated goals — any effort to raise funds for transportation should protect the public interest. What their letter does not address are the ways in which other alternatives could be worse than any of the solutions that involve the turnpike.”

The Commonwealth Foundation’s Matthew J. Brouillette, a conservative activist and Rendell ally on this issue, responded to the letter: “First, what happened to federalism? How or why should the federal government step in and prevent the states from making its own decisions regarding transportation and infrastructure needs?

“Second, in all cases of [PPPs], state and local officials have followed a rigorous process from where they carefully weighed options and policies to meet their needs and goals. To suggest otherwise is ignorant of what is happening in the states.

“Third, there has been no rush. Take Pennsylvania for example, there have been multiple hearings in both houses, countless hours of study and debate are coming – it’s been more than 6 months and still nothing has really moved. Where’s this so-called rush?

“Perhaps most troubling, however, is that neither Oberstar or DeFazio offers an alternative. At times of record high fuel prices, a doubling or tripling of the gas tax won’t fly. Therefore the chairmen must want Americans to sit in endless traffic congestion and travel on poorly maintained and unsafe roads, highways and bridges.”