The following comes from Celeste Meiffren, field director for Illinois PIRG.
Mayor Emanuel unveiled a plan to transform Chicago’s infrastructure and create 30,000 jobs over the next three years. Updating our public transit system, making buildings more energy-efficient, and the other projects to improve schools and parks are worthwhile ideas, but the devil is in the details.
The Mayor has not been entirely forthcoming about how exactly the “Building a New Chicago” program will be financed. He claims that it will be a mixture of private dollars through the new Infrastructure Trust, savings and user fees. But until we know exactly where the money is coming from, how it will impact our pocketbooks, and who is benefiting, Chicagoans will rightfully remain skeptical.
Given our history with private companies buying our assets at a discount, Mayor Emanuel should go the extra mile to build in protections for the public to ensure that taxpayers would get the best deal for the infrastructure that he is promoting. These public protections include having an independent, third-party evaluation to determine whether or not the public is receiving a fair value, ensuring full transparency down to checkbook level detail, and including the public and aldermen in the decision-making process.
If Chicago aggressively pursues infrastructure improvements through public-private partnerships, it must also become a national leader in protecting the public through common sense safeguards. If Chicago seeks to establish an example for other cities, this time it needs to be a positive example.