6.12 Public versus Private Ownership of Facilities
In recent years, various organizational ownership schemes have been proposed to raise the level of investment in constructed facilities. For example, independent authorities are assuming responsibility for some water and sewer systems, while private entrepreneurs are taking over the ownership of public buildings such as stadiums and convention centers in joint ventures with local governments. Such ownership arrangements not only can generate the capital for new facilities, but also will influence the management of the construction and operation of these facilities. In this section, we shall review some of these implications.
A particular organizational arrangement or financial scheme is not necessarily superior to all others in each case. Even for similar facilities, these arrangements and schemes may differ from place to place or over time. For example, U.S. water supply systems are owned and operated both by relatively large and small organizations in either the private or public sector. Modern portfolio theory suggest that there may be advantages in using a variety of financial schemes to spread risks. Similarly, small or large organizations may have different relative advantages with respect to personnel training, innovation or other activities.
Differences in Required Rates of Return
A basic difference between public and private ownership of facilities is that private organizations are motivated by the expectation of profits in making capital investments. Consequently, private firms have a higher minimum attractive rate of return (MARR) on investments than do public agencies. The MARR represents the desired return or profit for making capital investments. Furthermore, private firms often must pay a higher interest rate for borrowing than public agencies because of the tax exempt or otherwise subsidized bonds available to public agencies. International loans also offer subsidized interest rates to qualified agencies or projects in many cases. With higher required rates of return, we expect that private firms will require greater receipts than would a public agency to make a particular investment desirable.
In addition to different minimum attractive rates of return, there is also an important distinction between public and private organizations with respect to their evaluation of investment benefits. For private firms, the returns and benefits to cover costs and provide profit are monetary revenues. In contrast, public agencies often consider total social benefits in evaluating projects. Total social benefits include monetary user payments plus users' surplus (e.g., the value received less costs incurred by users), external benefits (e.g., benefits to local businesses or property owners) and nonquantifiable factors (e.g., psychological support, unemployment relief, etc.). Generally, total social benefits will exceed monetary revenues.
While these different valuations of benefits may lead to radically different results with respect to the extent of benefits associated with an investment, they do not necessarily require public agencies to undertake such investments directly. First, many public enterprises must fund their investments and operating expenses from user fees. Most public utilities fall into this category, and the importance of user fee financing is increasing for many civil works such as waterways. With user fee financing, the required returns for the public and private firms to undertake the aforementioned investment are, in fact, limited to monetary revenues. As a second point, it is always possible for a public agency to contract with a private firm to undertake a particular project.
All other things being equal, we expect that private firms will require larger returns from a particular investment than would a public agency. From the users or taxpayers point of view, this implies that total payments would be higher to private firms for identical services. However, there are a number of mitigating factors to counterbalance this disadvantage for private firms.
Tax Implications of Public Versus Private Organizations
Another difference between public and private facility owners is in their relative liability for taxes. Public entities are often exempt from taxes of various kinds, whereas private facility owners incur a variety of income, property and excise taxes. However, these private tax liabilities can be offset, at least in part, by tax deductions of various kinds.
For private firms, income taxes represent a significant cost of operation. However, taxable income is based on the gross revenues less all expenses and allowable deductions as permitted by the prevalent tax laws and regulations. The most significant allowable deductions are depreciation and interest. By selecting the method of depreciation and the financing plan which are most favorable, a firm can exert a certain degree of control on its taxable income and, thus, its income tax.
Another form of relief in tax liability is the tax credit which allows a direct deduction for income tax purposes of a small percentage of the value of certain newly acquired assets. Although the provisions for investment tax credit for physical facilities and equipment had been introduced at different times in the US federal tax code, they were eliminated in the 1986 Tax Reformation Act except a tax credit for low-income housing.
Of course, a firm must have profits to take direct advantage of such tax shields, i.e., tax deductions only reduce tax liabilities if before-tax profits exist. In many cases, investments in constructed facilities have net outlays or losses in the early years of construction. Generally, these losses in early years can be offset against profits occurred elsewhere or later in time. Without such offsetting profits, losses can be carried forward by the firm or merged with other firms' profits, but these mechanisms will not be reviewed here.
Effects of Financing Plans
Major investments in constructed facilities typically rely upon borrowed funds for a large portion of the required capital investments. For private organizations, these borrowed funds can be useful for leverage to achieve a higher return on the organizations' own capital investment.
For public organizations, borrowing costs which are larger than the MARR results in increased "cost" and higher required receipts. Incurring these costs may be essential if the investment funds are not otherwise available: capital funds must come from somewhere. But it is not unusual for the borrowing rate to exceed the MARR for public organizations. In this case, reducing the amount of borrowing lowers costs, whereas increasing borrowing lowers costs whenever the MARR is greater than the borrowing rate.
Although private organizations generally require a higher rate of return than do public bodies (so that the required receipts to make the investment desirable are higher for the private organization than for the public body), consideration of tax shields and introduction of a suitable financing plan may reduce this difference. The relative levels of the MARR for each group and their borrowing rates are critical in this calculation.
Effects of Capital Grant Subsidies
An important element in public investments is the availability of capital grant subsidies from higher levels of government. For example, interstate highway construction is eligible for federal capital grants for up to 90% of the cost. Other programs have different matching amounts, with 50/50 matching grants currently available for wastewater treatment plants and various categories of traffic systems improvement in the U.S. These capital grants are usually made available solely for public bodies and for designated purposes.
While the availability of capital grant subsidies reduces the local cost of projects, the timing of investment can also be affected. In particular, public subsidies may be delayed or spread over a longer time period because of limited funds. To the extent that (discounted) benefits exceed costs for particular benefits, these funding delays can be costly. Consequently, private financing and investment may be a desirable alternative, even if some subsidy funds are available.
Implications for Design and Construction
Different perspectives and financial considerations also may have implications for design and construction choices. For example, an important class of design decisions arises relative to the trade-off between capital and operating costs. It is often the case that initial investment or construction costs can be reduced, but at the expense of a higher operating costs or more frequent and extensive rehabilitation or repair expenditures. It is this trade-off which has led to the consideration of "life cycle costs" of alternative designs. The financial schemes reviewed earlier can profoundly effect such evaluations.
For financial reasons, it would often be advantageous for a public body to select a more capital intensive alternative which would receive a larger capital subsidy and, thereby, reduce the project's local costs. In effect, the capital grant subsidy would distort the trade-off between capital and operating costs in favor of more capital intensive projects.
The various tax and financing considerations will also affect the relative merits of relatively capital intensive projects. For example, as the borrowing rate increases, more capital intensive alternatives become less attractive. Tax provisions such as the investment tax credit or accelerated depreciation are intended to stimulate investment and thereby make more capital intensive projects relatively more desirable. In contrast, a higher minimum attractive rate of return tends to make more capital intensive projects less attractive.
6.13 Economic Evaluation of Different Forms of Ownership
While it is difficult to conclude definitely that one or another organizational or financial arrangement is always superior, different organizations have systematic implications for the ways in which constructed facilities are financed, designed and constructed. Moreover, the selection of alternative investments for constructed facilities is likely to be affected by the type and scope of the decision-making organization.
As an example of the perspectives of public and private organizations, consider the potential investment on a constructed facility with a projected useful life of n years. Let t = 0 be the beginning of the planning horizon and t = 1, 2, ... n denote the end of each of the subsequent years. Furthermore, let Co be the cost of acquiring the facility at t = 0, and Ct be the cost of operation in year t. Then, the net receipts At in year t is given by At = Bt - Ct in which Bt is the benefit in year t and At may be positive or negative for t = 0, 1, 2, ..., n.
Let the minimum attractive rate of return (MARR) for the owner of the facility be denoted by i. Then, the net present value (NPV) of a project as represented by the net cash flow discounted to the present time is given by
Then, a project is acceptable if NPV0. When the annual gross receipt is uniform, i.e., Bt = B for t = 1, 2, ..., n and B0 = 0, then, for NPV = 0:
Thus, the minimum uniform annual gross receipt B which makes the project economically acceptable can be determined from Equation (6.32), once the acquisition and operation costs Ct of the facility are known and the MARR is specified.
Example 6-6: Different MARRs for Public and Private Organizations
For the facility cost stream of a potential investment with n = 7 in Table 6-5, the required uniform annual gross receipts B are different for public and private ownerships since these two types of organizations usually choose different values of MARR. With a given value of MARR = i in each case, the value of B can be obtained from Eq. (6.32). With a MARR of 10%, a public agency requires at least B = $184,000. By contrast, a private firm using a 20% MARR before tax while neglecting other effects such as depreciation and tax deduction would require at least B = $219,000. Then, according to Eq. (6.31), the gross receipt streams for both public and private ownerships in Table 6-5 will satisfy the condition NPV = 0 when each of them is netted from the cost stream and discounted at the appropriate value of MARR, i.e., 10% for a public agency and 20% (before tax) for a private firm. Thus, this case suggests that public provision of the facility has lower user costs.
TABLE 6-6 Required Uniform Annual Gross Receipts for Public and Private Ownership of a Facility (in $ thousands)
Example 6-7: Effects of Depreciation and Tax Shields for Private Firms
Using the same data as in Example 6-6, we now consider the effects of depreciation and tax deduction for private firms. Suppose that the marginal tax rate of the firm is 34% in each year of operation, and losses can always be offset by company-wide profits. Suppose further that the salvage value of the facility is zero at the end of seven years so that the entire amount of cost can be depreciated by means of the sum-of-the-years'-digits (SOYD) method. Thus, for the sum of digits 1 through 7 equal to 28, the depreciation allowances for years 1 to 7 are respectively 7/28, 6/28, ..., 1/28 of the total depreciable value of $ 500,000, and the results are recorded in column 3 of Table 6-6. For a uniform annual gross receipt B = $219,000, the net receipt before tax in Column 6 of Table 6-5 in Example 6-5 can be used as the starting point for computing the after-tax cash flow according to Equation (6.13) which is carried out step-by-step in Table 6-6. (Dollar amounts are given to the nearest $1,000). By trial and error, it is found that an after-tax MARR = 14.5% will produce a zero value for the net present value of the discounted after-tax flow at t = 0. In other words, the required uniform annual gross receipt for this project at 14.5% MARR after tax is also B = $219,000. It means that the MARR of this private firm must specify a 20% MARR before tax in order to receive the equivalent of 14.5% MARR after tax.
TABLE6-7 Effects of Depreciation and Tax Deductions for Private Ownership in a Facility (in $ thousands)
Example 6-8: Effects of Borrowing on Public Agencies
Suppose that the gross uniform annual receipt for public ownership is B = $190,000 instead of $184,000 for the facility with cost stream given in Column 2 of Table 6-5. Suppose further that the public agency must borrow $400,000 (80% of the facility cost) at 12% annual interest, resulting in an annual uniform payment of $88,000 for the subsequent seven years. This information has been summarized in Table 6-7. The use of borrowed funds to finance a facility is referred to as debt financing or leveraged financing, and the combined cash flow resulting from operating and financial cash flows is referred to as the levered cash flow.
To the net receipt At in Column 4 of Table 6-7, which has been obtained from a uniform annual gross receipt of $190,000, we add the financial cash flow , which included a loan of $400,000 with an annual repayment of $88,000 corresponding to an interest rate of 12%. Then the resulting combined cash flow AAt as computed according to Equation (6.26) is shown in column 6 of Table 6-7. Note that for a loan at 12% interest, the net present value of the combined cash flow AAt is zero when discounted at a 10% MARR for the public agency. This is not a coincidence, but several values of B have been tried until B = $190,000 is found to satisfy NPV = 0 at 10% MARR. Hence, the minimum required uniform annual gross receipt is B = $190,000.
TABLE 6-8 Effects of Borrowing on a Publicly Owned Facility (in $ thousands)
Example 6-9: Effects of Leverage and Tax Shields for Private Organizations
Suppose that the uniform annual gross receipt for a private firm is also B = $190,000 (the same as that for the public agency in Example 6-7). The salvage value of the facility is zero at the end of seven years so that the entire amount of cost can be depreciated by means of the sum-of-the-years'-digit (SOYD) method. The marginal tax rate of the firm is 34% in each year of operation, and losses can always be offset by company-wide profits. Suppose further that the firm must borrow $400,000 (80% of the facility cost) at a 12% annual interest, resulting in an annual uniform payment of $88,000 for the subsequent seven years. The interest charge each year can be computed as 12% of the remaining balance of the loan in the previous year, and the interest charge is deductible from the tax liability.
For B = $190,000 and a facility cost stream identical to that in Example 6-7, the net receipts before tax At (operating cash flow with no loan) in Table 6-7 can be used as the starting point for analyzing the effects of financial leverage through borrowing. Thus, column 4 of Table 6-7 is reproduced in column 2 of Table 6-8.
The computation of the after-tax cash flow of the private firm including the effects of tax shields for interest is carried out in Table 6-8. The financial - cash stream in Column 4 of Table 6-8 indicates a loan of $400,000 which is secured at t = 0 for an annual interest of 12%, and results in a series of uniform annual payments of $88,000 in order to repay the principal and interest. The levered after-tax cash flow YYt can be obtained by Eq. (6.29), using the same investment credit, depreciation method and tax rate, and is recorded in Column 7 of Table 6-8. Since the net present value of YYt in Column 7 of Table 6-8 discounted at 14.5% happens to be zero, the minimum required uniform annual gross receipt for the potential investment is $190,000. By borrowing $400,000 (80% of the facility cost) at 12% annual interest, the investment becomes more attractive to the private firm. This is expected because of the tax shield for the interest and the 12% borrowing rate which is lower than the 14.5% MARR after-tax for the firm.
TABLE 6-9 Effects of Financial Leverage and Tax Shields on Private Ownership of a Facility (in $ thousands)
Example 6-10: Comparison of Public and Private Ownership.
In each of the analyses in Examples 6-5 through 6-8, a minimum required uniform annual gross receipt B is computed for each given condition whether the owner is a public agency or a private firm. By finding the value of B which will lead to NPV = 0 for the specified MARR for the organization in each case, various organizational effects with or without borrowing can be analyzed. The results are summarized in Table 6-9 for comparison. In this example, public ownership with a 80% loan and a 10% MARR has the same required benefit as private ownership with an identical 80% loan and a 14.5% after-tax MARR.
TABLE 6-10 Summary effects of Financial Leverage and Tax Shields on Private Ownership
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