Mayor Emanuel's attempt to ram the Infrastructure Trust through the City Council today is an abuse of power. It is the same kind of abuse that brought us the parking meter scandal and the sale of the Skyway to pay short-term bills. Like the midnight destruction of Meigs Field, it is an attempt to make public policy without debate or discussion.
The Mayor has asked for new authority to spend money, on undisclosed projects, while bypassing the normal political process. The new Infrastructure Trust Authority is to be owned and operated entirely by the Mayor. Projects will be selected by the Mayor's handpicked few, putting enormous political power in his hands.
The intramural debate among the Democrats on this bill entirely misses the point.
They are debating whether the Trust Authority should be subject to FOIA or ethics rules; whether there should be oversight by the Inspector General, and when projects should be disclosed.
They are debating process when they should be debating substance. They do not ask whether we should be spending yet more money in the first place. Missing from debate is whether the City of Chicago should have yet another mechanism to go into further debt.
Let's keep in mind what an Infrastructure Trust is. It's a goverment agency that uses private investment dollars to finance public projects. Private investors aren't running a charity; they expect to be paid back, and at rates that exceed those typically earned by municipal bonds. The mechanism by which they are repaid is the revenue generated by these projects, in other words, user fees. Roads are financed by tolls. Stadiums by higher ticket prices. Parks by entrance fees. One way or another, the residents of Chicago get stuck with the costs.
And what happens when projects fail? Or there are cost overruns, as there are on most government projects? Investors can walk away, or demand higher rates to finance future projects. They won't take the hit. Instead, the taxpayers will be left to make up the difference. As always, in a city where the predominant party lacks fiscal restraint.
Financing large, unnecessary projects at taxpayer expense has long been the way the Chicago Democrats operate. They flush the system with cash, dispense it to favored contractors, who in turn write checks back to their political sponsors. And the cycle continues, until the money runs out.
That's what has happened. The City and the State are financially under water. They can't easily issue new bonds to fund projects. Borrowing is already out of control. There is structural debt, large projected budget deficits, and unfunded obligations.
Hence the Infrastructure Trust. By bypassing the traditional bond process, and putting the authority into the hands of a small group of people appointed entirely by the Mayor, there is no longer a need to involve the political system. It's another pot of money, even further removed from the control of voters.
In smaller communities, voters routinely vote down proposals for new municipal bonds. Democrats know this. For the cycle to continue, the voters must be taken out of the process. And, apparently, the Aldermen as well.
The Chicago Republican Party strongly urges City Council to vote the Infrastructure Trust down.