When federal treasury secretary Henry Paulson first presented congressional leaders with a $700 billion bailout plan, he urged quick passage, saying time was of the essence. And of course it was, and is, but some legislators wisely noted that a little scrutiny might not hurt when you're talking about piles of the taxpayers' money. Discussion and debate has continued in the couple of weeks since, and the bill passed Wednesday by the Senate is, by most counts, a far better proposal.
The city of Chicago, facing an estimated $420 million budget deficit, announced a $2.5 billion, 99-year lease plan for Midway Airport Tuesday, and on Thursday held a series of closed-door meetings with aldermen to urge approval of it within the week. Alderman Pat O'Connor, who carries Mayor Daley's water on the council floor, told the Sun-Times that the administration wants to get the deal done before the election further slows down the federal government, which has to sign off on the deal. "With a new administration, there will be some unwillingness to make decisions on anything," O'Connor said.
Just to review the facts: the lease would turn over control of a public airport to a private company for a century; it would prevent the city from collecting any airport revenue during that time; even after most of the money goes to pay off debt, it would leave more than $100 million in the mayor's hands to spend on infrastructure projects and whatever else he sees fit; the new, potentially reluctant administration will most likely (barring a terrorist attack) be headed by someone who last year appeared in Mayor Daley reelection ads; aldermen are expected to vote on this within a few days based on information supplied by the administration.
In other words, the council will almost certainly pass it within a week.
But some aldermen are pledging to withhold support until they get more information. Howard Brookins, alderman of the 21st Ward, says he wants to know if the city could find a way to free more of the money generated by Midway now, without the lease deal. "I'd love to be able to support the deal, but I also philosophically have a problem with selling off all of the assets we have," he says. "I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet."
Ninth Ward alderman Anthony Beale says he can't back it. "I need guarantees that the funds will be spread around and not just put into certain wards," he says. "I'm not going to support just another slush fund for the mayor."