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Yesterday they took it one step further, as President Bill Clinton joined Mayor Emanuel for a press conference to announce the creation of the $1.7 billion Chicago Infrastructure Trust fund.
Which is different than the $500 million-a-year slush fund, otherwise known as the city's TIF program.
Though I’m sure both funds ultimately will be replenished by the same source of suckers—that would be you, Chicago taxpayers.
Before I go further allow me to say that I’ve always had an inexplicable fondness for President Clinton, even though I generally assume he’s up to no good.
What can I say? The man’s got that disarming manner, as though he truly cares about you, me, and our families. Even though he probably cares about us as much as Mayor Rahm. Which is not at—well, you figure it out.
In fact, I think it's pretty obvious that President Clinton's the kind of politician Mayor Emanuel wishes he could be—if only he could curb the urge to drop the F-bomb and bite your head off.
Back to the trust fund . . .
In short, Mayor Emanuel announced that the city’s gearing up to spend an unspecified amount of money on an unspecified bunch of things to be financed by a very specific group of financiers—including Citibank, J.P. Morgan Asset Management Infrastructure Investment Group and Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets Inc., which is the company that leased the Chicago Skyway.
Within moments of the Clinton/Emanuel announcement, Citi had issued its own press release which said: “We are committed to helping preserve and revitalize Chicago and other cities across the country.”
As though this were all about helping you and me and our families.
So, people, what should we make of this?
Well, let me be the first to tell you that one way or another you'll wind up paying for whatever it is that they’re going to do.
Not that whatever they do will necessarily be bad. Or that they’ll do anything at all—this just might be one of those never-launched initiatives that’s long forgotten by the time our mayor moves on to the next phase of his career.
But all this mumbo jumbo about a trust fund and private-public partnership is just a ruse to distract you from the essential fact—you’re going to pay for this.
And for what? Well, like I said, Mayor Emanuel’s offered few specifics. There's a lot of maybes—as in, maybe he’ll build new rapid bus lines, or maybe he’ll extend the Red Line to 130th Street.
More specifically, the mayor says he'll spend as much as $225 million for "Retrofit Chicago," which will cover the costs of “retrofitting” various city owned buildings so they don’t consume so much energy, thus saving up to $20 million a year in energy costs.
And where will he get the $225 million to retrofit those buildings? From the trust fund created by the financial conglomerates.
And how will he pay back those conglomerates? Again, the mayor’s not clear, though he clearly wants you to believe the $20 or so million a year in energy savings will do the job.
And what if—as I suspect—those energy savings are too meager to pay back the loans? Well, my friends, that’s where your tax dollars, fines, and fees will come in mighty handy.
In other words, private investors are not lending money to Chicago because they—like President Clinton—care so much about you, me, and our wonderful families.
Oh, no, this is about making money. As in, they wanna make more! And the money they make will probably come from you. So get ready to pay it.
Look, I’m not against public works projects. In fact, as a New Deal Democrat, I believe our local government should stimulate the economy by building things that Chicagoans need.
As opposed to paying for G8/NATO parties that Chicagoans don’t need.
But as the footer of the bill, I’d like more honesty in the presentation.
By the way, the mayor’s press release assures us that “the creation of the trust will require City Council approval, and the trust would be subject to City Council oversight.”
It didn’t say if the mayor was laughing when his publicists wrote those words.
That would be the same city council that did such a slam-dunk job of overseeing Mayor Daley’s last great public-private partnership—the parking meter deal.
Say this for Mayor Daley, he was very specific with his splashy public works announcements—as in, I’m gonna build this library, that school, or this park.
In other words, there was going to be a very concrete public benefit when all the money was spent.
When Mayor Emanuel trots out his big projects, he highlights the private conglomerates that will finance the deal.
Concentrating on the companies who will be making the money as opposed to the things that the money will make—call it reform in the age of Mayor Emanuel.