New York seeks private partners free of conflicts for PPP board

Seven months after New York Governor David Paterson approved the creation of the oversight body for PPPs in the state, the board is still in the process of being set up, as finding private sector participants for the board who would be unconflicted has proven difficult.

New York is pushing ahead with plans to set up an Asset Maximisation Board to oversee the development of public-private projects in the state, but the effort is being slowed by the difficulty of finding private-sector participants free of conflicts of interest.

The board, a state-level entity that would oversee, approve and enable the use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) for infrastructure projects, was approved by New York Governor David Paterson in June.

Members of the board – representatives from the legislature, organised labour and the private sector –  are being selected, but “it is difficult to find folks who wouldn’t be conflicted” on the private sector side, Samara Barend, the executive director of the New York State Asset Maximisation Commission, told InfrasructureInvestor.

“We want to make sure that we have the right people who are part of this process – it’s not something that you can just do lightly,” she added. Her commission in June recommended the creation of the board.

The board will feature two representatives from the state legislature, a representative from organised labour and four gubernatorial appointees from the private sector who have relevant PPP experience, according to the commission’s report. A chair will also be appointed by Governor Paterson, who is reviewing names for his slate of appointments.

“As soon as he makes a decision on the names or shortly thereafter, we will be moving forward [with the board],” Barend said.

Barend is speaking with state agencies that might have potential PPP projects. She declined to name specific partners, but said “the agencies that are eager and hungry to get this done” are the ones that will be targeted first.

Barend also continues to receive feedback from the private sector on what projects might be feasible in the current market environment. “I think the sense is that, definitely, any project that deals with a huge amount of risk transfer would be difficult right now,” she said. Her commission’s report outlined 26 recommendations, among them PPPs for statewide bridge improvements, high-speed rail, transmission and distribution infrastructure, data centers and wireless telecommunications infrastructure.

She also is planning an outreach effort in January to educate the state’s legislators about the Asset Maximisation Commission’s findings and vision for PPPs in New York State.