Thursday, December 4, 2008

Done deal

Posted By on 12.04.08 at 03:47 PM

As expected, the full City Council signed off on Mayor Daley’s plan to lease the city’s parking meters to an assortment of private interests led by Morgan Stanley. Since word of the deal first emerged—a whole three days ago—the dramatic fee hikes that will result have pissed off people around the city.

But as annoying, and potentially burdensome, as they are, they’re not half the story. A few other points worth reiterating:

·        This is the second time in two months that the city has leased—for the better part of a century—a revenue-generating, publicly owned asset to a for-profit entity. And before the meters and Midway Airport, the city handed off the Skyway and downtown parking garages. More of these agreements appear to be on the way.

·        No hearings were held to gather public input on any of the deals.

·        The City Council took less than a week to examine and consider the meter deal—as with the one for Midway.

·        The only financial analysis offered to the City Council or to the public was the one provided by the Daley administration.

·        City officials told aldermen this week that they haven’t determined the names of individuals behind many of the interests making up the bid-winning partnership, known as Chicago Parking Meters LLC.

·        The administration has not released the number or names of any of the meter lease bidders except for the winner, nor the figures they bid.

·        Chicago Parking Meters LLC will have “supplemental enforcement” power—that is, the authority to write parking tickets. The city will keep the money from ticket payments.

·        The city still has the right to remove meters or even lower rates, but it would have to return some of the money.

·        As a matter of sustainable public policy, experts say it’s a wise idea to tax driving—if the money is going to be invested in alternative forms of transportation. This money isn’t.

·        Much of the $1.2 billion from the deal will be spent in the next few years:

o       City officials say $400 million will be set aside to cover the revenue the city will lose by turning over control of the meters; if this money collects 5 percent interest, it will produce $20 million annually, which is about what the meters now generate. But this assumes a consistent interest rate and doesn’t take into account the gains in revenues the city could reasonably expect by raising meter fees between now and 2084.

o       $325 million will go toward balancing city budgets through 2012.

o       $100 million will go into a “human infrastructure fund” that will help pay for existing social programs.

o       $324 million will be poured into a “budget stabilization fund”—also known as a “rainy day fund.”

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