CHICAGO — U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois unveiled legislation Monday that would promote public-private partnerships for transportation projects by lifting federal restrictions on tapping private financing for airports, highways, and railroads.
Kirk, a Republican, said the measure would generate $100 billion in new money for transportation projects.
He announced the legislation at a press conference in downtown Chicago, just two days after Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced a measure that he said would help protect taxpayer money in privatization deals by requiring public input before municipal assets such as roads or parking lots could be sold.
Kirk’s legislation is meant to promote privatization of public assets at a time when federal spending on infrastructure is at a low.
“Our roads, rail, transit, and airports are facing unprecedented funding shortfalls,” Kirk said.
The Lincoln Legacy Infrastructure Development Act — the name refers to President Abraham Lincoln’s creation of the transcontinental railway — would “eliminate barriers for innovative funding options.”
Kirk rejected other new-revenue options, such as raising the gas tax, and said, “We cannot force the federal government into a new orgy of borrowing.”
The proposal would lift caps on private-activity bonds for highway projects and require that proceeds from leases or sales be reinvested in infrastructure.
Noting that 29 states have approved legislation allowing some form of privatization, Kirk said such measures have “transformed the economies” of states like Indiana and allowed them grow at twice the rate of Illinois’.
The proposed legislation would raise the number of governments that could participate in the pilot interstate-tolling program and the airport privatization pilot program.
Kirk also proposed creating what he called a private-public experimental program to identify obstacles and solutions to tapping private dollars.
The junior Illinois senator unveiled the bill in a city known for its pioneering asset-privatization deals under former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
The city’s 2005, $1.83 billion lease of the Chicago Skyway for 99 years was a first-of-its-kind deal. That was followed in 2009 by the $1.15 billion lease of its parking meters for 75 years.
Daley also tried and failed under his tenure to lease Midway International Airport. Under the FAA’s airport privatization program, only five airports are eligible for privatization, only one of which can be a large hub airport. Kirk’s legislation would lift that cap.
Midway currently holds the large-hub slot under the program, and the city now has until July 31 to submit a revised timetable for its final application.