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Labor & Economy

Chicago Pivots Away from Privatization




Chicago just took a huge step towards closing the door on irresponsible sales of public assets and reckless outsourcing of public services. Last week, the city council passed an ordinance that mandates real public review of large privatization deals and increases transparency and contractor accountability.

The Privatization Transparency, Accountability and Performance Ordinance (PTAPO) is a significant move by Chicago’s leaders to ensure meaningful accountability to the city’s taxpayers and working families.

Unfortunately for Chicagoans, the rules weren’t in place a decade ago, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley leased the Chicago Skyway toll bridge to an Australian-Spanish private consortium for 99 years. The bridge has since become one of the most expensive toll-per-mile roadways in the U.S.

But Daley’s lease of the city’s parking meters to Wall Street in 2008 is the ultimate example of privatization gone wrong. Chicago sold the meters to Morgan Stanley at least $1 billion under their value, and contract language in the 75-year deal has forced the city to take on the role of risk manager to protect the multinational corporation’s rate of profit. This makes it harder for Chicago to make innovative and environmentally sustainable changes to its transit, like dedicated bus and bike lanes.

Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer, who introduced and pushed hard for the PTAPO, said, “I can safely say that we will not have another parking meter deal in this city again because of this.”

When our leaders put short-term budget relief above the long-term public interest by handing over control of public services and assets to the private sector, too often the public foots the bill for too little in return.

Chicago’s new rules are a great start to making sure public decisions put the public interest first, provide quality services, and ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Let’s learn from Chicago’s tough lessons and push for similar legislation cities and states across the country.

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