Chicago Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott testified at a City Council Finance Committee hearing yesterday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed Infrastructure Trust “was conceived with the full-throated support of Chicago’s labor leadership.”
That is not entirely true.
The Trust was conceived with the support of the Chicago Federation of Labor, or CFL, which an umbrella organization for city and Cook County unions. The public-private partnership also has the backing of the Chicago & Cook County Building Trades.
However, a few unions, many that represent public sector workers, have spoken out against the Trust, including AFSCME Local 31, the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU* Local 73, and SEIU Health Care Illinois.
The full City Council is expected to vote tomorrow on a revised Infrastructure Trust ordinance that passed the Finance Committee 11-7 on Monday. The ordinance establishes a non-profit entity – the “Trust” – in which five investment groups would work with a Mayor-appointed, five-member Infrastructure Board to finance projects.
Trust supporters, including CFL, say that with a dearth of federal and state funding, private money is needed for big infrastructure projects. “This is an innovative way to break through a funding log jam and identify ways to get these projects going,” says CFL spokesman Nick Kaleba.
Kaleba also notes that the one Trust project identified by the city is the energy retrofitting of city buildings, which could create up to 2,000 jobs.
Kaleba says that other unions' concerns are "valid," though notes that some were addressed in the revised Trust ordinance, such as a City Council member now being part of the Trust board.
Other major concerns surrounding the Trust include a lack of accountability, user fees, and taxpayers footing the bill while banks and investors are guaranteed major financial returns – much like in the case of the city’s parking meter privatization deal.
“We’re troubled by the rush to rubber-stump such a complex and far-reaching proposal without adequate scrutiny or opportunity for revision,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Local 31, which represents public employees.
Jackson Potter, spokesman for CTU, said the Trust could repeat problems that the union has with the Tax Increment Finance, or TIF, economic development program, where projects are concentrated in wealthy neighborhoods.
Amisha Patel, executive director for the Grassroots Collaborative coalition – which includes CTU, SEIU Local 73, and SEIU Health Care, argues that the negative impact of privatizing public infrastructure will offset any potential short-term job gains. “People need jobs but we need to make sure that everybody is lifted up,” she added.
The SEIU Illinois Council is sponsor of this site.