PPP pro leaves California, eyes infra opportunities

As Secretary of California's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, Dale Bonner oversaw the state's implementation of a new PPP law and helped bring its first PPP, the Presidio Parkway, to a commercial close. Bonner said he will remain involved in PPPs and may join an infrastructure fund.

Dale Bonner, the California government administrator who helped the state embrace public-private partnerships and bring its first PPP to a successful commercial close, has left his post as part of a transition to a new government in the US’ most populous state.

Dale Bonner

Bonner said in an interview that Friday marked his last day with the state of California, where he had served as Secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing (BTH) Agency since his appointment in March 2007 by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Bonner had been a partner at law firm Epstein Becker & Green prior to the appointment.

“I came to the process with the goal of helping the government open up the infrastructure market here . . .  that drew me back to public service,” Bonner said.

The market took a big leap forward in February 2009, when Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 4, a comprehensive statute allowing state-wide and regional transportation agencies to pursue PPPs without limit to location or number. As the head of the BTH Agency, which oversees California’s Department of Transportation, Bonner was charged with the helping the state implement the statute.

Over the ensuing 22 months, Bonner convened California’s Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission (PIAC), which reviews PPP agreements and helps state agencies identify PPP candidates and assemble best practices. He also helped the PIAC put together a pipeline of projects and bring the first of these, the Presidio Parkway project, to a successful commercial close.

The Presidio agreement was executed on 3 January, Bonner’s last day official day as BTH secretary, after a judge lifted an engineering union’s temporary injunction against its signing.

Looking ahead, Bonner said “at least at this point” he is most likely return to the private sector, where he’ll be looking to put his infrastructure expertise to work “in a way that helps the public and the private sector”.

“There’s a possibility I will look at some opportunities in private equity with some of the infrastructure funds,” he said, adding that returning to law practice was also a possibility.

Bonner said he’ll take “a couple of months” to sort his next move.

Bonner’s resignation was part of a change of government in California, where Democrat Jerry Brown was sworn in as the state's 39th governor on 3 January. Brown will now install a new management team across the state’s governing agencies, including Bonner’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

Brown has not yet named an appointment to head the agency. His first state budget is due out today.

Bonner declined to take a guess on who his successor might be but said Brown is likely to keep an open mind toward infrastructure investment.

“I expect [Brown] will continue to look to infrastructure investment as a way of growing the economy,” Bonner said.