One of the bills still sitting unsigned on Gov. Pat Quinn's desk is HB 1091. The Public-Private Partnership for Transportation Act, if signed, would allow the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to enter into contracts with private entities, allowing the latter to build and operate roads, bridges, tollways, tunnels, bus systems, and high-speed rail operations in the state.
This unprecedented move would essentially allow private companies to have a major stake in new transportation infrastructure -- and gain dividends from the "partnerships" -- all while being exempt from taxes because, technically, the projects would fall under the umbrella of state property. Earlier this week, a group of activists met with legislators and aides of the governor to voice their concerns with the privatization of state property. While there, the anti-privatizers got some interesting news.
“We made a strong case to State Senator Heather Steans and State Representative Elaine Nekritz this morning,” said Dr. Lora Chamberlain of Protect Chicago’s Water, who organized the meeting.“Our team of volunteers had thoroughly reviewed HB 1091, which Steans and Nekritz sponsored, and listed the dozens of serious issues we have with this bill. Despite our deep reservations about this policy, we were told by the legislators that the state is broke and unable to get funds for needed transportation projects.”
While legislators insist that the state cannot borrow the money needed to pay for these types of projects, making public-private partnerships necessary, one of the meeting's attendees says that is not so. According to Tom Tresser of Protect Our Public Assets, the governor's Legislative Director Lindsay Anderson said the state's leaders can, in fact, get the funds needed from other avenues.
“Ms. Anderson was quite emphatic that the State of Illinois has not reached its limit on its ability to borrow or to go to the bond market for needed and worthy projects,” Tresser said. “So what is the reason for this rush to privatize when doing so is detrimental to state taxpayers?”
The coalition of anti-privatization groups is calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to veto the bill and is urging Illinoisans to contact the governor's office with the same message. The group has also launched an online petition against the piece of legislation.