A number of Chicago aldermen and community activists alike are ramping up criticism of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's $7 billion "new Chicago" infrastructure plan ahead of an important City Council vote on the initiative.
The council's Finance Committee on Monday met to discuss the Chicago Infrastructure Trust ordinance, which aims to rebuild, repair or expand the city's parks, streets, railways, O'Hare airport, public schools, water systems and other parts of what the mayor calls "Chicago's core." The cash-strapped city will turn to private investment companies to help fit the massive bill for such improvements. The plan, the mayor claims, will create roughly 30,000 jobs in Chicago.
"Our plans are comprehensive because our needs are comprehensive -- because no city in America relies on its infrastructure more than Chicago," the mayor said in a statement announcing the trust last month.
The council committee voted to approve the controversial proposal 11-7, the Chicago Tribune reports. Seventeen members of the committee abstained.
Several aldermen have questioned what investors stand to gain in return for their contribution to the trust, however. Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said Monday, according to WBEZ, "It doesn't drill down to the transparency issues. It doesn't drill down into who's on the hook and what liability there is for the taxpayer, not only for this generation but for the next few."
The mayor's infrastructure plan was amended Friday, after aldermen asked for more time to consider the proposal, to include the appointment of one alderman to serve as one of the trust's five voting members and other efforts to up the initiative's transparency, but many remain skeptical, the Chicago Sun-Times notes.
Fellow council member Ald. John Arena, 45th, said, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, that though he was thankful the mayor has revised the Infrastructure Trust ordinance, he maintains that "the fundamental shortcoming still exists even in the revised ordinance because it marginalizes the City Council's essential role in safeguarding the short- and long-term financial interests of the city's taxpayers."
"The whole ordinance reeks of 'trust us, trust me -- I'll do the right thing," Julie Roin, a University of Chicago Law School professor, told the Chicago Tribune of the trust.
In response to criticisms, the mayor's office claims that the trust is not intended to circumvent the council's authority, as Lois Scott, the mayor's chief financial officer, explained to the Tribune. The goal, she says, remains finding a way to fund a better future for the Second City.
Amisha Patel, Grassroots Collaborative executive director and HuffPost Chicago blogger, urged aldermen to vote down the mayor's proposal in a press conference earlier Monday.
"If you don't, you won’t get another chance because the governing board of each project will sign off on the projects -- not the City Council. Checks and balances? It sounds like the mayor is checking and balancing himself," Patel said, the Sun-Times reports. Patel's group is part of a coalition referring to the plan as "the Great Chicago Sell-Off."
Roosevelt University sociologist Stephanie Farmer told CBS Chicago that the mayor's private-public infrastructure plan is reminiscent of the city's controversial tax-increment funding program in that it may skew toward certain types of developments in certain parts of the city over others out of concerns over profitability.
"What we were told, were promised, 30 years ago when they implemented the TIF … program was that it was gonna go to economically starved communities that are suffering from blight," Farmer told CBS. "Thirty years down the road, what we see is 50 percent of the TIF funds being used to fund downtown development projects."
The full City Council is slated to vote on the trust Wednesday.
WATCH the mayor discuss the Chicago Infrastructure Trust last month: