Public-private partnerships, or P3s, can be described as a panacea or a pain depending on who you ask. This is further evidenced by a new report from the New York state comptroller’s office that details many of the pros and cons of these arrangements. Of particular interest to us was the section that spelled out the financing risks inherent in P3s. Among them were the potentially high costs of private debt utilized; the gambles of extremely long contracts (some as long as 75 years); and poor analysis that can lead to the undervaluing of public assets.

And, of course, some public-private partnerships run into problems because of poorly drafted agreements. As the report says, “A number of P3 contracts around the United States have had to be renegotiated or refinanced due to private partner bankruptcy, costly design changes, or dramatic declines in the number of users. The legal and administrative costs associated with such restarts can easily eat up all the benefits that were supposed to accrue from the P3 contract.”

As cities and states manage their transportation systems, it’s critical that leaders be aware of dramatic changes in driving trends over the last few years. Some stats, according to

  • Per capita driving in the United States went down 7 percent from 2007 to 2012 (from 1960 to 2000, per capita driving just about doubled).
  • 16 to 34-year-olds showed a dramatic decline in driving from 2001 to 2009, as their per capita driving dropped 23 percent.
  • 30 percent of people under the age of 24 lack driver's licenses (vs. 20 percent in the 1980s.)

We use E-ZPass in our car, and we love it. It frequently lets us whiz past slow-moving cash-only lanes and we get a discount on the tolls. But just last weekend, we drove from New York to Connecticut via the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and mistakenly found ourselves in a cash-only lane. Much to our surprise, the fare was $7.50. Last we had paid attention, in pre-pass days, it was somewhat lower.

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In addition to their benefit to drivers, electronic toll collection systems also have an advantage for cities and transportation authorities: Toll increases are close to invisible to drivers, keeping them from kicking up a fuss when they happen.

When a bridge collapsed in the state of Washington last month, the nation's deficient, obsolete and undermaintained bridges again came into focus -- and not in a good way.

But there is some good news, according to Wall Street Journal blogger Carl Bialik: Federal Highway Administration data quality has improved a good deal. Back in 2009, there was an estimated 115,000 errors in its 60 million plus data points about the nation's bridges. In 2012, the number of errors declined to 4,000.

New York state funeral directors are ready to move into modern times. As things stand, according to the New York State Funeral Directors Association, New York City, the District of Columbia and 43 states all have electronic death registration systems or are developing them – but New York state isn’t one of them.

To try to change that, the state’s Funeral Directors Association is backing legislation to introduce an electronic system. Currently, the state’s funeral directors outside New York City manually type certificates of death and file carbon paper copies. We bet most 16-year-olds don’t even know what carbon paper is.

“The administration of government, like a guardianship, ought to be directed to the good of those who confer, not of those who receive the trust.” -- Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher.

A couple of weeks ago, we asked B&G Readers for recommendations of good questions to ask job applicants. Here are a few of the strongest, in our opinion:

  1. “If I called your most recent supervisor, tell me everything he/she would say about you.”
  2. “Tell me about a great day at work, a day that would make you go home and tell your mother, friend, partner: ‘Wow, I can't believe they pay me to do this!’"
  3. “The interviewer asks, generally toward the end of the interview, ‘And what questions do you have for me?’ The question(s) the candidate asks can be very revealing. … The fact that they ask questions at all can tell you that they feel the need to understand before diving in, that they have thought about the subject of ‘what I need to know’ prior to the interview, suggesting they see the need for facts in order to make a decision.”

Paychecks feeling a bit lighter? The Center for State and Local Government Excellence reports that, according to their latest survey, 29 percent of state and local public workers said their governments required current employees to pay larger pension contributions in 2013.

On the other hand, much of the data from the same source shows improvement from 2012 for public-sector workers. For example:

  • 33 percent of those surveyed reported pay freezes, compared to 51 percent in 2012;
  • 18 percent reported layoffs, compared to 28 percent in 2012; and
  • 27 percent reported hiring freezes, compared to 42 percent in 2012.

We've spent the last several decades of our working lives talking with government sources about their experiences running programs -- and when we find powerful consensus in those interviews, we often use the conclusion as evidence. Yet, every now and then, we run into someone with a more academic orientation who believes that truth lies only in numbers based on solid statistical methodology.

That’s why we were pleased to hear Benjamin Jones, faculty director of the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative at Northwestern University (our alma mater) talk about anecdotes as an important form of data that work along with summary statistics, correlations and more rigorous experiments to ferret out what works and what doesn’t work in government programs. Here’s a ten-minute talk by Jones.