A week after Mayor Daley unveiled his bad news budget -- which relies on skimming $370 million from asset reserve funds to help plug a $520 million deficit -- aldermen began hearings on the city's finances this morning. Over the past five years, Chicago has collected ...
A week after Mayor Daley unveiled his bad news budget -- which relies on skimming $370 million from asset reserve funds to help plug a $520 million deficit -- aldermen began hearings on the city's finances this morning. Over the past five years, Chicago has collected upwards of $3 billion for privatizing several major public assets: specifically, the parking meters, downtown garages, and Skyway. But due to the bad economy and the resulting drop in revenues, the Daley administration has tapped all but $730 million of the reserve funds. But rather than own up to the fact he has been using these privatization deals as a crutch, the mayor has instead indicated that he is open to hawking additional public assets. "Everything is on the table," he told the Tribune editorial board last week, including the water and sewer systems.
On FOX Chicago Sunday this week, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) warned that if Daley is allowed to ram through another parking meter-style deal, the city would be "in big trouble." Moreover, he pointed out that the ongoing privatization talk is emblematic of a bigger problem. "[The city] needs a new influx of ideas and policies," he told co-hosts Jack Conaty and Dane Placko. "The old way of doing things no longer works." Watch it:
WAGUESPACK: We have a structural problem in this city that needs to be changed. It's about policies and philosophies for the way we run the city. Those need to change [...]
If we do with the water system or the sewer system what we did with the parking meters, this city is in big trouble.
PLACKO: You talk about the need to rethink the way big cities, like Chicago, are run. Do you think Mayor Daley is the guy to do that?
WAGUESPACK: Based on the past few years, on the policies they've put in place, I'm not so sure. That's why we've put together some ordinances that create more transparency and slow down this process to sell off assets [...]
CONATY: Do you think if we revisit this in spring and this is all off the table, we're doing fine?
WAGUESPACK: No. We need some new policies and processes ... a new influx of ideas. The old way of doing things no longer works.
During the full conversation (which has not yet been posted to Fox Chicago's website), Conaty makes a great point about why the taxpayers should be leery of any future privatization pitches. "We're talking about having a city set a fair market value on assets that cannot foresee 12 to 18 months down the road," he said. That's exactly right. Earlier this year, Daley pledged that skimming $325 million from the $1.15 billion parking meter deal would be enough to balance the budget through 2012. Just eight months later, the fund has been virtually drained ($230 million remains). And there are no plans to replenish it. Waguespack also noted that while Chicago has a mere $225,000 in its cash reserve fund, while "other cities have millions of dollars, or hundreds of millions of dollars that they're tapping into."
Last week, the mayor glossed over one crucial element of the city's budget: the $1 billion tax increment financing (TIF) reserve on which he's sitting. With $552 million diverted into this shadow budget last year alone (21 percent of which would have gone to the city), it's no wonder that Chicago is yet again facing a deep budget deficit.
It's encouraging to see some light finally being shed on the mayor's piggy bank. Waguespack isn't alone in recognizing that "the old way of doing things no longer works."