House lawmakers this afternoon amended a bill allowing public-private financing of transportation work to give preference to projects using Pennsylvania steel, among other factors.
Lawmakers voted 107-86 for an amendment, proposed by Rep. Steven Santarsiero, to give priority to these projects, as well as those using American materials and those proposed by companies based in Pennsylvania or the United States. But they rejected two other proposals by the Bucks County Democrat to encourage government to choose American partners in the projects.
One of the proposals would have required developers to use at least 51 percent American financing for their project. Santarsiero explained the amendment was intended "to keep some control over the project in the United States."
Several lawmaker argued against the proposal, none more pointedly than Rep. John Lawrence, a Chester County Republican, who asked Santarsiero how a developer could continue to limit majority ownership to American investors as bonds traded hands on secondary markets. He said investors would not consider a project requiring them to track ownership over the 20-year or 30-year terms of the bonds.
“Frankly they will laugh the project out of the room,” he said. “How on earth is an entity building a new road in Pennsylvania going to keep track of who buys and sells the bonds financing that road in the years after the bonds are sold?”
The idea got backup from Rep. Michael McGeehan, a Democrat from Philadelphia County, who said allowing foreign investors to finance the majority of an important infrastructure project would leave the state at risk.
"Money is power," he said. "Do we want the Chinese to fund the improvements in our critical bridges and airports and roads?"
Lawmakers rejected the idea 85-108. They also turned down, this time 86-107, an amendment that would require majority American ownership of a project's private-sector partner.