Washington Post policy blogger Ezra Klein today takes a thoughtful look at Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Infrastructure Trust, and tries to answer the $7 billion question: Will Chicago taxpayers end up taking a hit in the pocketbook?
The trust has a lot going for it: Chicago's infrastructure is crumbling (thanks, Rich Daley!), and yet voters aren't going to tolerate much more in the way of taxes and fees. The city's credit rating isn't great, so issuing bonds would be expensive. Finding another way to spruce things up around town is something of an imperative for Emanuel.
But the infrastructure bank's money won't come cheap, either. As we saw with Daley's parking meter debacle, savvy investors like JP Morgan Chase and Citibank generally expect a return on their capital. How much? The devil is in the details, Klein says:
For this to work reasonably well, a city has to be smart about how it structures its contracts with private investors. Otherwise, there’s a real possibility that Chicago could pay too much for its infrastructure and, essentially, get fleeced...
The saving grace for the Infrastructure Trust deal is that it's not actually a deal—it's a facility for the mayor and City Council to make some deals.
Here's hoping the meter debacle has shown aldermen that taking a $100,000-a-year salary to work as a legislator means you actually need to read the legislation you're voting on, no matter what the mayor tells you.