Daley: More Privatization Deals on the Way

Daley considers next lease deal

By Steve Rhodes
|  Saturday, Oct 24, 2009  |  Updated 11:55 AM CDT
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Chicago Mayor Richard Daley

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We were only joking the other day when we suggested we'll soon have to start feeding our water meters every 15 minutes just like the parking meters to help make up for the budget shortfall.

But the truth is that privatizing the city's water system - that is, leasing it to a private party a la the parking meters in exchange for an upfront bundle of cash - is an idea that's coming around again.

Daley told the Chicago Tribune editorial board this week that he recently met with consultants about future privatization deals and that "everything is on the table," including reviving his stalled attempt to lease Midway Airport and, yes, leasing the city's water system.

Daley wouldn't say whether he wants to go forward with the water plan - rumored for years - because he didn't want to stir up controversy at a time when his budget proposal is already in the spotlight.

Of course, if Daley wasn't interested in privatizing the city's water, there would be no controversy. So in his own elliptical way, he answered the question.

A public leery of asset leases in the wake of the parking meter fiasco would be one impediment, but a larger one to Daley would be the union representing water department personnel.

"In general, privatization is a bad idea," AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall told Newstips. "It places a middleman between taxpayers and the government that serves them, a private-sector middleman whose concern isn't good quality public services but profit."

And the Sun-Times's Fran Spielman points out that - unlike parking meters - the water system is something everybody uses. The political danger from something going wrong is that much bigger.

But Daley wants to sell something. "It whets your appetite, the things they see that we don't see," Daley said of a meeting with a finance group from Spain that is tempting him with schemes.

And when Daley's appetite is whetted, danger is ahead.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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