One of the central questions is one of great importance as the Commonwealth ponders the possible sale and/or long-term leasing of the Turnpike. That question is “What is the true value of this asset?” Would the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have competent appraisal of its assets’ value? If these appraisals of value are competent, how can Pennsylvanians be sure that the value has not been set, at least in part, in order to be an intentional handout to friends?
Of course, as many investment firms know, the real value of public infrastructure can be discovered in its long-term value. John Ralston Saul summarizes this critical point succinctly: “The state—the citizenry—had spent decades building up these industries….Privatization meant a one-time payment, which the state could not invest with equal success. And so the citizenry lost the advantage of the long-term capital worth of their nation-state.” Obviously, we should have exactly the same concerns about possible transactions with private sector interests that may involve the leasing or sale of the Turnpike.
Would the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania obtain a fair price? Estimates of the Turnpike's value range from $2 billion to $30 billion. Would the state proceed to invest this one-time financial windfall wisely in a manner that would ensure its citizens against any negative long-term repercussions?
One can see from this summation of financial investment and economic trends that the Pennsylvania Turnpike is indeed a tempting target for our new breed of international businessman who is risk averse, but longing for guaranteed long-term returns. Is it sound public policy to sell or lease the Commonwealth’s premier roadway?
A damning answer to this question is found in Saul’s treatise on contemporary economics:
Perhaps the simplest example was the outcome of the broad privatization of state corporations and the resulting movement of trillions of dollars….
Privatization brought no pattern of success….As for the vast sums injected into public coffers across the world, they seemed to evaporate without particular effect. There was no economic surge, no particular improvement in public economic health. Just a one-time payout in return for removing large blocks of long-term value from public wealth.