Mayor Daley's demand for immediate approval of his controversial $1.15 billion deal to sell off the city's parking meters didn't - by design - leave anyone much time to think through the implications.
Now, though, some folks are wondering if the mayor is mortgaging the future by privatizing city assets in long-term deals in addition to likely leaving his eventual successor with a huge pile of debt.
"What happens when there are no more capital assets to privatize?" Jay Stewart of the Better Government Associationasks on the BGA's new Clout Fairy blog. "Using the proceeds from the sale of capital assets to cover regular operating expenses just puts off hard budget decisions into the future. Eventually there won’t be an asset sale to cover a budgetary hole. Then what?
"To answer my rhetorical question, the answer will likely be yet more tax hikes, layoffs and services cuts, with the caveat that insiders will be spared from the worst aspects of such indignities. I would rather the City eliminate the corruption that wastes so much of our tax dollars first before selling off assets. Eliminating the scandalous Hired Truck program alone saved millions of dollars of taxpayers‘ money."
In her story over the weekend under the headline "Is Daley Mortgaging The Future?", Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times quotes an anonymous "longtime observer" who says "He's handcuffing future mayors. Whoever comes in is going to find an empty cupboard."
"According to our analysis, the city would receive about $1.5 billion if we sold as is. If we quadruple the prices of some meters, as Morgan Stanley will do on January 1, 2009, and increase again by 2013, our analysis shows that the actual value over 75 years is closer to $4 billion."
And the Sun-Times letters page today includes those under the headlines "Chicagoans Pay Dearly For 'Mayor Da-lease," "Meter Scheme Questioned," "Rate Hike Goes Too Far," and "Watch Your Wallet."
It's an interesting debate with merit to arguments on both sides, but only in Chicago is it a debate that happens after the fact and not as part of the democratic process.