Sunday, February 03, 2013

Bonanza Column 270 - Public Private Partnerships

The recent discussion over the eLearning Lab’s proposal to partner with the library brought to light a situation that, regardless of the merits of that particular issue, ought to be of concern to all of us.
Over the past decade or so, so-called “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) have been of increasing importance all over the world in extending the ability of governments to provide services in difficult economics. According to the U. S. State Department, “Such partnerships have leveraged the creativity, innovation, and core business resources of private partners for greater impact on global issues. To date, the Department has worked with over 1,100 partners and mobilized more than $650 million in public and private resources to support key foreign policy objectives including climate change mitigation, women’s empowerment, economic growth, and human rights.” The State Department’s participation in PPPs represents only a small portion of PPPs worldwide.
In most countries these PPP arrangements have been aimed at overcoming broad public sector constraints in relation to either a lack of public capital; and/or a lack of public sector capacity, resources and specialized expertise to develop, manage, and operate infrastructure assets. Public Private Partnerships are now commonly used to accelerate economic growth, development and infrastructure delivery and to achieve quality service delivery and good governance.
The need for PPPs in many countries has been accelerated by the public sector‘s recognition of the vital role of modern infrastructure in economic growth, and PPPs are now accepted as an important avenue for funding major public sector infrastructure projects. PPPs are joint ventures in which business and government co-operate, each applying its strengths to develop a project more quickly and more efficiently than government could accomplish on its own. The private sector may be responsible for the designing, financing, constructing, owning and/or operating the entire project. The private sector may want to be assured that the public-private partnership structure is designed to provide competitive rates of return commensurate with a financial rate of return that they could earn on alternative projects of comparable risk.
In the case of the eLearning Café/Washoe County Libraries discussion, the Library Board’s counsel delivered an opinion that the PPP could not happen because of a peculiarity of Nevada Law. Under the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) anything of this sort that is not explicitly enabled or permitted in the Statutes is considered to be prohibited. Not surprisingly, PPPs are not included in the NRS, which was originally formulated in 1861.
The provision that effectively prohibits anything not explicitly permitted is particularly problematic in a state where the Legislature only sits every two years and then only for a few months.
PPPs are proving to be an especially effective vehicle in the environmental area as recognition increases that a focus on the environment in isolation from the larger picture is in most cases ineffective. Current thinking in the mainstream of the environmental movement is that there is a “triple bottom line” that requires attention to environmental, economic, and social factors, and this lends increasing importance to looking beyond government for solutions. The TRPA Regional Plan Update depends on such PPPs that are represented in part by developments such as Homewood, Boulder Bay, and Edgewood on a large scale, and also partnerships such as that between TRPA and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District for boat inspections in service of keeping aquatic invasive species under control.
The 2013 Regular Session of the Nevada Legislature begins on Monday, February 4, and while it is too late to hope for new legislation to enable PPPs, it is possible to attach such a measure to existing legislation being introduced. I’ve written to Senator Ben Kieckhefer and Assemblyman Randy Kirner asking them to look into this situation, and thus far have received no response. If enough people raise this issue with them, it’s possible we can get something done in this legislative session.

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