Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rahm's latest verdict: we're stuck with the meter deal

Posted By on 12.14.11 at 05:30 PM

Rahm Emanuel has benefited from the parking meter deal since he began campaigning for mayor last year.

He knows Chicagoans hate it, so even though he’s generally open to privatization, whenever the meter agreement comes up he seizes the opportunity to contrast the budgetary “smoke and mirrors” of the past with the new era of “tough choices” and transparency.

In other words, he’s not the mayor who ruled before—the one who got us into this mess.

Earlier this fall Emanuel even raised the specter of selling off additional assets as a way to cow the City Council into letting him double water and sewer rates over the next decade. “Some have suggested that we should privatize Chicago's water system. I oppose privatization," the mayor said. "But just because we don’t want to privatize our water system does not mean we are off the hook.”

It’s safe to say Emanuel’s tactic worked.

Most of us have no trouble agreeing that Mayor Daley deserves the blame for pawning the meters. But that's why Mayor Emanuel hasn't felt any real urgency to act on the issue. When you've got a former mayor to kick around, what’s the cost of not doing anything? A lot less than investing time and resources in a potentially fruitless attempt to figure out if it can be reworked or scotched altogether.

So Emanuel has alternated between declaring he’s mad as hell about the meters and not going to take it anymore—and conceding, much more quietly, that he’s going to have to take it some more because the deal locks us in for another 72 years.

This afternoon Emanuel did both at once after a reporter asked him again if the city could simply nix the deal.

“How much I would love to do that,” the mayor said. “But to deal with that, you have to have a billion bucks.”

And, as Emanuel noted, the city doesn’t have a billion bucks at the moment.

But the mayor also wanted to spell out just how outraged he was by the latest evidence that the city got taken in the meter deal—a bill for $13.5 million that Chicago Parking Meters LLC sent to the city to be reimbursed for providing free parking to the disabled.

“We’re going to go through that bill line by line!” he declared. “As I’ve said before, I do not treat the city taxpayers as an ATM.”

The mayor went on to explain that he wouldn’t authorize paying a dime the city wasn’t obligated to pay. He avoided referring to Chicago Parking Meters by name, as he often does with sore subjects.

Instead, he talked about “the company that manages and owns the meters.” That’s an interesting description. The city officially calls its contract with CPM a “lease,” a “concession agreement,” and a “public-private partnership.”

But every so often the truth comes out: the street parking system was sold.

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