State and local governments pocket the money upfront and get to spend it here and now, so politicians can cover their runaway budget deficits and enjoy the political rewards of spending for new facilities. They ignore the fact that U.S. citizens must pay tolls to foreign landlords for the next two or three or even four generations.
Foreigners like the deals because they know that, unlike the rest of the world, American law enforces contracts and the U.S. government doesn't nationalize industries. The foreign companies can raise tolls without having to cope with objections from local customers.
These deals leave a lot of questions unanswered. Texas ranchers are concerned about the use of eminent domain to cut a wide swath through their properties in order to build a very-limited-access corridor on which foreign trucks and trains will transport Chinese goods in sealed containers, uninspected until they reach Kansas City, Mo.
The Texas governor is already talking about more toll roads through Texas, north and south, east and west.
Indiana legislators are concerned that the Spanish firm could rake in $133 billion over the 75-year life of the Indiana toll road lease for which Indiana received only $3.8 billion.
The Indiana governor is now seeking an I-69 toll road from Evansville to Indianapolis that critics claim will destroy vast Hoosier properties: 5,100 acres of farmland, 1,600 acres of forest, 140 acres of wetlands, 400 homes, 76 businesses, and 135 existing roads. A foreign company could collect tolls for decades into the future.
Orange County, Calif., was burned by its contract with a French company that bought part of state Route 91 for $130 million. When Orange County found that the fine print in the contract prohibited it from building more roads, it had to buy back the lease for $207.5 million.
The U.S. government blessed this rush to sell off American infrastructure on April 30, 1992, when then-President George Herbert Walker Bush signed Executive Order 12803, called "Infrastructure Privatization." It directed federal departments and agencies to encourage state and local governments to "privatize infrastructure assets."
Infrastructure assets were defined to include "roads, tunnels, bridges, electricity supply facilities, mass transit, rail transportation, airports, ports, waterways, water supply facilities, recycling and wastewater treatment facilities, solid waste disposal facilities, housing, schools, prisons and hospitals."
The first President Bush's order failed to put restrictions on who the purchasers could or should be, American or not, or friend or foe. The current president, George W. Bush, is now acquiescing to European Union demands to open U.S. airlines to foreign ownership.
Is America for sale?
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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