Pennsylvania governor re-joins Philadelphia law firm

At Ballard Spahr, Edward Rendell will focus on infrastructure and PPPs, among other practice areas. He left office last week without a much-coveted PPP bill or a signed agreement for the state’s first PPP, but market observers laud his leadership on the issue of increasing infrastructure investment in the US.

Ed Rendell, the Pennsylvania governor who championed infrastructure investment and public-private partnerships, has rejoined the law firm of Ballard Spahr, where he worked as a partner prior to his election to the state’s top job in 2002.

Ed Rendell

Rendell will rejoin the firm as a partner based in Philadelphia, the law firm said in a statement, where he will focus his practice on infrastructure and public-private partnerships, energy, environmental, healthcare and higher education issues.

The appointment comes less than a week after Rendell left the governor’s mansion, where he had served since his inauguration eight years ago. Over that time, Rendell gained national stature for his advocacy of greater investment in infrastructure, including via public-private partnerships (PPPs).

“I think that he was a strong catalyst to bringing the PPP market from infancy to maturity in the United States,” said Frank Rapoport, chair of the global infrastructure and PPP practice at Washington DC-based law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge.

Rendell, a Democrat, also championed the issue of increasing transportation funding and PPPs in the state. But state Democrats often treated the issue with skepticism; a $12.8 billion bid to lease the state’s 537-mile turnpike in 2008 drew strong opposition from Democratic Representative Joseph Markosek, who headed the Pennsylvania House’s Transportation Committee, and died in the legislature.

Rendell’s attempts to pass enabling legislation for PPPs also was greeted with skepticism by the legislature. Last year, Rendell called a special session of the legislature to deal with a “transportation funding crisis” created by the failure of the state's attempt to raise money by tolling a federal highway, the I-80. But the last-minute push was rebuffed by both houses of the legislature.

Rendell also stumped for two PPPs brought forth by state authorities – the Southport development at the Port of Philadelphia and the $310 million Scudder Falls Bridge replacement on the Delaware River. But neither deal reached completion before Rendell’s term ran out, meaning he left office with neither a PPP bill nor a first PPP deal for the US’ sixth-largest state.

“He was a man before his time,” said McKenna’s Rapoport.

Progress still possible

In the wake of Rendell’s departure, though, the state still may see progress in the area of PPPs and infrastructure investment, local sources say.

The Southport deal may move under the tenure of the new governor, Republican Tom Corbett, who is said to keep an open mind to PPPs. In November, the Southport deal was awarded to a team that included stevedores SSA Marine and Ports America, as well as shipping agency Hyundai Merchant Marine. The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority expects Corbett to approve the deal by the end of February.

“I’d be very surprised if it isn’t,” said Bill McLaughlin, a spokesperson for the authority.

Corbett’s arrival in the governor’s mansion also was matched by a Republican sweep of the Pennsylvania House, which means that Republicans now control both chambers of the state’s general assembly and the governorship. Gregory Grasa, a policy analyst for Pennsylvania House Republicans, believes this bodes well for a PPP bill his boss, Representative Rick Geist, tried to pass during Rendell’s tenure.

“We still believe transportation is an immediate priority, and Representative Geist wants to work with [Gov. Corbett] to get it solved,” Grasa said. “We see PPPs as a component of the overall package.”

Geist, now in the majority chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee, will attempt to move his bill through during one of the committee’s first few meetings, Grasa said. “We did build considerable momentum, and we can’t afford to lose that momentum,” he added.