It's kind of like taking Cialis... | Bleader

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's kind of like taking Cialis...

Posted By on 12.03.08 at 07:09 PM

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Wednesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Finance had a single item on the agenda: consideration of an ordinance that would give a private company 75 years of profits from Chicago’s parking meters for $1.17 billion in cash.

But more than ten minutes of the meeting passed before a couple of aldermen interrupted testimony from city officials to ask if they could have copies of the ordinance [PDF].

It’s fair to say that the administration wants quick approval of the deal. And the council appears to be ready to do its part—the committee sent the ordinance to the full council even though even many of its usual go-along-to-get-mine members felt pushed around, taken for granted, and, perhaps worst of all, politically exposed.

Or, as 27th Ward alderman Walter Burnett put it, supporting the ordinance is kind of like taking erectile dysfunction medication: “It’s good on the one hand, but on the other hand it can cause some blindness and some other things that can happen to you.”

In this case, Burnett went on to explain, the “side effects” amounted to heat he and his colleagues were likely to take from angry voters who will have to pay four times as much to park in a metered spot.

“We leave here, and our home is around our constituents," Burnett said to Paul Volpe, the city’s chief financial officer. "They have homes near us, they’re in our churches, they’re in our stores, and we have to live with that.”

Naturally, this being the Chicago City Council, there were plenty of Daley administration cheerleaders who helped make the case that, time frame be damned, this is simply too great a deal to pass up.

“Let me ask you this question,” James Balcer, alderman of the 11th Ward, said to Volpe. “Is there anywhere else we can get $1.17 billion?”

“Not today,” Volpe said.

“Not today,” Balcer said. “Nowhere else we can get a billion.”

And that’s why most aldermen have no choice but to sign off on this deal: they need the money.

They may—and did, and will—complain that the time frame for finalizing it is ridiculously fast, that they’re not being respected as legislators, that parking rate hikes will penalize the residents and businesses in their wards, that the city is selling off too many assets, that the entities taking control of the meters may not be unionized and aren’t registered in Illinois and have an amazingly complicated ownership structure and may have historic ties to slavery and appear to represent everything wrong with Wall Street. . . .

But the administration can answer it all by noting that the council essentially agreed to the lease deal last month when it passed the 2009 budget, complete with a $150 million hole that has to be filled somehow. If not with proceeds from a meter lease, then what?

“Significant tax increases,” Volpe said.

No one wants that. And no one has other ideas, so the administration is able to present this as an either-or: this deal or tax hikes. Or, if you want to think outside the box, cuts to things like heating assistance to the poor.

“This is certainly short order,” 29th Ward boss Ike Carothers barked at Volpe Wednesday. “Briefings yesterday, after a quick call, and I couldn’t attend because it was called ad hoc. And now finance today, and the full City Council tomorrow. What is the urgency?”

A delay in finalizing the deal could cost the city millions of dollars, Volpe said, because interest rates could rise above the historic low point they’re at now. He added: “We’ve been working on this transaction for about a year, so this has not been a hasty transaction on our part.”

“So what you’ve been working on in a year you want us to vote on in two days.”

“We had discussions about this transaction throughout the budget,” Volpe said. “In fact, so much so that we passed a budget that relies on $150 million from this transaction. So I would just point that out.”

Carothers, like several other critics of the deal, left the meeting before it was over. 

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