The Feds cancel the Ohio Turnpike Privatization Study, and I yell Wah? for odd reasons…

Here is the story from the Plain Dealer :

Ryan and the other Democratic House members sent the U.S. Transportation Department a letter on Tuesday that questioned whether it was appropriate for the Ohio Department of Transportation to use $1.5 million from the federal State Planning and Research program to study privatizing a public asset. The federal money was revoked in response to that letter.

The argument from the Dems is that they think it’s wrong for the Feds to promote the study of a policy they don’t agree with. Well, yippee, now I get to whining from both sides of the aisle about How Dare People Study Things I Don’t Like, a whine most common in my experience among American conservatives, but now, apparently, is gaining traction with lefties like Dennis Kucinich. Awesome.

Anyhoodily, the Reason Foundation blog featured this contribution from Sam Staley:

The “privatization” being discussed is hardly radical. In fact, it’s standard policy in other parts of the world, including Europe, China, and India. In fact, the U.S. is a laggard in the use of this tool to finance and manage public assets. The state of Ohio is not considering a “sale” of a public asset, either; it’s considering a long-term lease to a private company in what’s called a concession with strict performance criteria that usually shifts risk off taxpayers. The allusion to 1,000 jobs being lost (err, “threatened”) is a red herring. Even if jobs are reduced–and substantial evidence suggests the turnpike’s payroll is bloated–hundreds of jobs will still be held by Ohioans. Moreover, Ohio Gov. Kasich has been clear in that he wants to use the revenues from the lease to fund infrastructure investments in other parts of the state (following the successful lead of Indiana’s lease of the its tollroad by Gov. Mitch Daniels). So, these funds would in fact generate the jobs the Congressmen and women claim will be threatened or lost through other infrastructure projects.

Let’s ignore the repeated use of “in fact” (Hey, blogging is hard!) and put aside the silly notion that anti-privatization is “being political” but being pro-privatization is somehow “not political” (hint: it’s all politics, folks). Nonetheless, Staley is right about the jobs issue: if the Turnpike stays open, the jobs will be fine. And there’s a chance the Turnpike might be run better under a lease, and that might mean some gains. There’s also no guarantee it’s going to be run better. But it’s not as though jobs will simply vanish into thin air regardless of what they do.

Here’s what outrages me: either that “study” is actually a first-step implementation (in which it shouldn’t be called a “study”; it should be called a pilot) or OMG WHO IS GETTING $1.6 MILLION TO STUDY PRIVATIZATION? I’m currently studying privatization on a grant 1/3 that size. And this study is on ONE TURNPIKE. ONE!! We’re studying the ENTIRE FREAKING WORLD. I tried to find the details of the study but couldn’t, but I’m so totally holding out for more money next time if people in Ohio get $1.6 mil for studying it.

In all seriousness, the size of the grant does make one wonder: if privatization is such a swell idea, and businesses are going to make heaps and gobs of money by doing things so much better than government does, why can’t the franchisee fund their own Ohio Turnpike study? Why do federal taxpayers have to be on the hook for that? And why doesn’t the Reason Foundation balk at that part of the issue rather than balking at canceling the study? No government doesn’t mean “government for studies I like but not for studies I don’t like.” Shouldn’t there be a market for privatization studies?

I tried to find the details of the study, but I couldn’t find them online. If anybody has them, could you post a link or some details in the comments?

HT to the Transportationist, David Levinson.