Tax Dollars And Sense

Midway Airport Lease Resurgence

By Celeste Meiffren
Field Director

Is the deal to lease Midway Airport to a private company coming back? It's pure speculation at this point, but Greg Hinz, blogger-in-the-know over at Crain's Chicago Business, seems to think so in his latest post, "Emanuel calls summit meeting with top airline execs."

On Monday, Mayor Emanuel has a meeting with top airline executives from United, American, Southwest, and U.S. Airways. The mayor's office is not commenting on what the meeting is about, but one can only imagine that with this group, the Midway deal is bound to come up.

Hinz writes, "Plans to lease Midway to a private developer fell through a couple of years ago, and Mr. Emanuel during his campaign said he was not interested in reviving the deal. Now that he's had time to carefully examine the city's books, perhaps the new mayor's interest has been, um, rekindled."

A short-term fix like asset privatization is certainly an attractive option for elected officials. After all, it offers an easy way to get a big up-front wad of cash without raising taxes, laying-off workers or cutting popular city services-- all excruciating choices to make in a tough economy.

That being said, the decision to lease a major public asset to a private company has long-term implications for taxpayers and the city as a whole. As the experience of leasing Chicago’s parking meters demonstrated, there are major risks involved in lease deals, and bad deals can burden a city for generations to come.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Mayor Emanuel should support and pass the Asset Lease Ordinance. This would ensure that the public is involved in the decision making process and guarantees that the public gets a fair value for the asset that is being leased. (For more on the Asset Lease Ordinance, go here).

With so much at stake, it is essential that the public be part of the conversation and that decision makers have all the necessary information to put the public interest ahead of the desire for a short-term infusion of money.

So, if it turns out that Mayor Emanuel's interest in leasing Midway Airport becomes "rekindled," passing the Asset Lease Ordinance will help ensure public participation in the process and will prevent the passage of a bad deal that short-changes Chicago taxpayers. And who could argue with that?

Want to know more about Chicago's history of privatization? Check out our report, "Privatization and the Public Interest."

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