Cash-strapped states like Arizona are trying to change the Federal law enabling them to privatize interstate rest stops so they can sell off leases and set up commercial operations. Except here in Tennessee, where our Gov. Bill Haslam, whose family owns Pilot Oil, the nation’s largest operator of travel centers, is against the idea. Surprise!
Well, technically he said he’s staying out of it since he’s governor, but his brother Jimmy, CEO of Pilot, is openly lobbying against the idea. And everyone says it’s not gonna happen in Tennessee.
I think his point was, no matter what the business is, if you made an existing investment counting on a certain set of circumstances, i.e. that the state wouldn’t sell its own right of way for other people to use, it’s not really fair to go back and change the law to give one person a preferred position there.
I find this fascinating. I’m sure there are plenty of situations one can think of where a private group made an existing investment counting on a certain set of circumstances, and then the rules were unfairly changed. Let’s see … Planned Parenthood operating women’s health clinics using Title X funds comes to mind … I’m sure folks can think of some others.
I have to say, the Brothers Haslam surprise me. I would think they’d be all over this rest stop privatization scheme, eager to bid on the contract themselves. I admit I am not that familiar with this issue, so perhaps there’s something else going on here that I don’t know about. I can understand why the Haslam family would want less competition, and I guess they’ve positioned their locations on the assumption that state-operated rest stops are not competition.
Usually, though, Republicans are all about privatization. From our prisons to our schools, everything is supposed to be shinier, sparklier, cheaper, and better when sprinkled with the fairy dust of free enterprise.
Except, of course, where you pee and stretch your legs while taking the great American road trip.
Hmmm. Sounds a little self-serving to me. Furthermore, Tom Humphrey noted that other states which have received federal approval to privatize their rest stops are making some decent money:
In contrast to Tennessee, where the combined cost of operations is about $10 million per year, other states are making money off their rest stops. In Delaware, where full commercialization is allowed under federal law, a contract guarantees the state at least $1.6 million per year and perhaps more, depending on the contractor’s profits, according to a Stateline article. The contractor spent $35 million building a 42,000-square foot welcome center last year, the article says.
In Virginia, where full commercialization with restaurants and gas stations is not permitted, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration recently awarded a contract for operating vending kiosks and sale of advertising rights at 42 rest areas and welcome centers that is projected to net about $2 million per year, according to the AP.
Now, $2 million a year may not sound like a lot but remembering the hissy fits Republicans threw over TDOT’s roadside wildflower program which honored our veterans and cost around $800,000, well … it’s significant. Boy, I miss seeing those red poppies and purple lupines every spring. Ah well.
For the record, I’m not in favor of privatizing rest stops, either. I love the uncommercialized nature of our rest stops. But that’s just my Luddite, hippie nature. So Haslam and I agree on this one, for completely different reasons. Haslam wants to protect the family fortune under the guise of “fairness” … I’m just sick of being advertised to all the time. But honestly I really wonder what’s in the best interest of Tennessee? Would it be so awful if a private company operated our rest stops, perhaps along the Virginia model?