So what about those sky-high costs? Financial markets have developed over the last decade an enormous appetite for infrastructure projects, which can offer highly stable cash flows and inflation protection over long periods of time. Recent numbers suggest more than $100 billion has been raised dedicated to this new "asset class."
McKinsey estimates more than $5 trillion available (including more traditional sources) to fund greenfield projects and renovations world-wide. The safety of these projects and historically low interest rates mean pension funds, endowments, sovereign wealth funds and other institutions are willing to accept ultra-low yields -- and consequently pay ultra-high prices -- for concessions.
Some forward-thinking states and municipalities in the United States have already taken advantage of this arbitrage. LaGuardia Airport's current $8 billion renovation is managed by a public-private partnership. The state of Indiana and the city of Chicago both sold concessions over a decade ago to operate and maintain toll roads at big valuations -- $3.8 billion and $1.8 billion, respectively -- to Australia's Macquarie and Spain's Cintra, two pioneers in the field.
On the flip side, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2013 decision to cancel the proposed privatization of Midway Airport, which would have been the largest such transaction in U.S. history, did nothing to help a city spiraling towards insolvency. At a time when heavily indebted cities and states nationwide struggle to avoid becoming Detroit, how better to raise money than to take it from the private sector without losing control over service or regulation?
This virtuous circle seems right up Trump's alley. His first foray into the political spotlight was his successful renovation of Central Park's Wollman Rink following years of waste and delay by city government. He might well be able to nationalize that success. As an experienced builder, Trump understands that the private sector delivers higher-quality projects on time and on budget and that the profit motive leads to better service so long as these natural monopolies are regulated.
As the self-described "king of debt," Trump also knows that if you can get the private sector to finance capital expenditures at absurdly low rates or pay astronomical asset prices, you generally should. Having worked his way successfully out from under a mountain of debt, Trump also gets that selling assets is a great way for overleveraged entities -- be they the United States as a whole or one of its encumbered municipalities -- to restore their balance sheets.
Even better if they can keep control of the assets, as would be the case with infrastructure privatization. The Trump campaign has in fact already put forward a proposal to extend over $137 billion in tax breaks for projects, but it should go much further in engaging in outright transactions.
Rome rose and fell on the quality of its roads. Unlike other fields, this is an area Trump knows well. Perhaps an unexpected benefit to having the nation's first builder-in-chief in the White House is that we will approach this problem with all the entrepreneurial sense of the business world -- and benefit greatly as a nation.
Commentary by Richard Hurowitz, the chief executive officer of Octavian Media LLC and Octavian Group Holdings LLC, and publisher of The Octavian Report. Follow him on Twitter @RichardHurowitz.
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