Thursday, April 19, 2012

Who Do You Trust?

In a recent press interview, Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel was quoted as saying "I'm not in the position of analysis. I'm in the position of getting things done." His words were in response to ongoing criticism of the Public-Private Trust that Emanuel hopes to establish in Chicago to pay for upgrades to city infrastructure.

Details remain sketchy on this trust, but its basic premise seems to be that the city would put an infrastructure project out to bid (such as bridge repair) and a private company would then pay for all construction associated with that public asset. After the parking meter debacle under the previous mayor, Emanuel was clear in his assertion that the city would continue to own the infrastructure. Less clear, however, is what the private company will receive to make the project worth their while. It might be as innocuous as naming rights and advertising space or as obnoxious as paying a toll or extra tax to cross a city bridge or use a city water main.

Alderman have asked for more time to consider this deal and Emanuel gave it to them today, another six days to consider his proposal prior to voting. This approach was different (at least in degree) from former Mayor Daley who was known for ramming projects through the city council in a very short period of time. The parking meter deal received less than a day's review. It was not, however, different in kind. Emanuel made it clear today that his deal will get through whether the aldermen like it or not. He stated that "I believe we'll pass it overwhelmingly. I am not going for a unanimous vote. I am going for passage and we will, in a significant way, pass it."

What seems to concern the council most is the non-profit organization, made up primarily of Chicago businessmen, who would run this trust and manage its projects. Their actions, taken on behalf of the city, would be exempt from oversight by the city's Inspector General and would also not be subject to Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests. For all intents and purposes, a shadow agency would be set up to run alongside the city's already existing departments tasked with the building and maintenance of public works. Alderman such as John Arena from the 45th Ward are demanding greater city oversight of the trust.

But Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward) remains unconvinced that this trust is necessary. His is one of the few voices in city government to raise the important question of how this system will significantly differ from the traditional approach of raising municipal bonds to pay for these projects, which could still be built by private contractors.

I find myself in agreement with Munoz and would simply add to his comments the observation that what Emanuel is proposing sounds like the municipal version of a payday loan. Were this trust to go through, as it probably will, interest rates to pay the private company back for its services will likely be astronomical. Far higher than the rates of repayment from a traditional bond sale.

It also comes dangerously close to the outright privatization of city assets, which judging from the incomplete details of this Public-Private Trust must surely be the next step in Il Duce's (a.k.a. "the Rahmfather's) plan. Remember after all that Rahm in his role as President Obama's Chief of Staff referred to Liberals as "fucking retards."

Since many of us voted for you Rahm (for the record I voted for Del Valle), perhaps we are, but you need to remember that we can also vote you out. We can't, however, vote out of power a private company charged with managing city assets. Think about that Chicagoans and call your alderman to voice your concern. Now is the time for action before it's too late.

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