For a country that prides itself on a robust private sector, the U.S. lags behind many other nations in using the private sector to finance, build and operate infrastructure. From 1990 to 2006, for example, public-private partnerships financed five times as much transportation infrastructure in the U.K. as in the U.S. -- even though the U.S. economy is more than six times larger than that of the U.K.
Partnerships between the public and private sectors cannot solve the entire problem of decaying and neglected infrastructure in the U.S. They do not represent "free" money, and many have gone wrong. But done right, they can boost investment and help efficiently manage projects once they are in place.
What's getting in the way of infrastructure investments today? That's a question that 17 U.S. big-city mayors took up last week at the first meeting of a new task force formed by the Clinton Global Initiative and the United States Conference of Mayors. (I serve as a special adviser to this Infrastructure Financing for Cities Task Force.) Presumably, this should be an ideal time to work on roads, bridges and other public works because interest rates are low and the spending would help reduce high unemployment in the U.S.