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New York governor Andrew Cuomo during election night outside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York on November 8, 2016. (KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Dems May Come Around on Privatized Infrastructure

Harry Zieve Cohen

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo talked about infrastructure when he spoke with President-elect Trump this past month, and what he said may come as a surprise to his fellow Democrats. The Washington Examiner reports:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo slammed the federal government for having a "competency issue" in how well it handles infrastructure projects.

"We don't even think big anymore because our expectations have been dumbed down," Cuomo said Sunday about the current state of public infrastructure on John Catsimatidis' radio show "The Cats Roundtable."

The Democratic governor added that he has spoken with his fellow New Yorker, President-elect Trump, about his incoming administration's role in infrastructure.

"I told him we have to address the [government's] competency issue and the capacity issue … not just the issue of funding … I spoke to him about design-build, which is how we did the Tappan Zee Bridge," Cuomo said.

Governor Cuomo has become a big advocate for “design-build,” a streamlined construction process in which the government hands off an entire project to a private bidder. Before Governor Cuomo reformed New York’s construction procurement process, the state would solicit designs for a project and then solicit separate bids for dozens of different components—steel from one company, asphalt from another, etc. Using the design-build model, the state may save up to $500 million on the Tappan Zee alone.

Design-build has faced criticism over the years, however, because it takes power out of government hands and relies on private firms. Unions and companies that knew how to game the old system often oppose the new one, accusing the government of trying to privatize public infrastructure. Of course, design-build does rely on the profit motive to eliminate the waste typical of government bureaucracies, and it shares a philosophical approach with President-elect Trump’s infrastructure plans.

Governor Cuomo, like President-elect Trump, believes that privatization can save money on construction. Another Cuomo project, rebuilding LaGuardia Airport, has also been handed off to a private company. The reality, as Cuomo apparently understands, is that bloated blue agencies can’t compete with profit-seeking firms.

On the one hand, President-elect Trump is being attacked from the left by Senator Bernie Sanders and others for embracing privatization. But he’s also apparently been encouraged by Governor Cuomo, also to his left, to embrace private-sector involvement.

As I wrote over the weekend, President-elect Trump could get a lot of mileage out of a big privatization push. Democrats need to decide whether it’s better to oppose his efforts, à la Sanders, or, à la Cuomo, to try to reap some of the rewards for themselves.

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