Jim Ryan suggests leasing Ill. tollway system

January 4, 2010 6:54:57 PM PST
One of the Republican candidates in the race for governor says he has a plan to help fix the sate budget crisis.The plan will sound very familiar to people who live in Chicago.

Republican candidate for governor Jim Ryan's timing seemed less than perfect in Chicago. He said, if elected, he'd consider leasing the Illinois tollway system to a private operator. And he said that on the same day that rates were increased on parking meters leased by Chicago to a private operator in one of the most politically unpopular deals in recent city history.

"I want to consider and will consider every innovative approach possible to address our budget problems," said Jim Ryan, (R) candidate for governor.

The former attorney general--who the Tribune poll suggested is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for Illinois governor-- says leasing the suburban tollway system to a private operator might be the key to bailing out Illinois from its $13 billion budget hole.

"I'm willing to put everything on the table and take a look at it," said Ryan.

But most of Ryan's six primary opponents are skeptical. State Senator Kirk Dillard is concerned that suburban motorists would have to pay higher tolls while proceeds from a tollway lease would be used statewide. And Hinsdale businessman Adam Andrzejewski says Ryan should plan to focus more effort on spending cuts.

"I would not lose the income stream of those assets until we cut spending, cut spending, and cut spending," said Adam Andrzejewski, (R) candidate for governor.

Selling or leasing the tollway system could be a difficult deal for taxpayers to swallow because of the political fallout from Chicago's lease of the city's parking meter system. The private company that paid over a billion dollars for the meters raised rates again Monday and Mayor Daley was back on the hot seat trying to defend the deal as good government.

"Other cities are doing this all over the country?every city is doing the same thing we are," said Mayor Daley.

Back in the governor's race on the Democratic side, Comptroller Dan Hynes say he would oppose selling or leasing the tollway system to balance the Illinois budget.

"To take a long term asset and the money you get from the sale and put it towards your one-year operators budget is the equivalent of burning your furniture to keep your house warm," said Dan Hynes, (D) candidate for governor.

Governor Pat Quinn's availability was held before Ryan pitched the tollway lease idea. Quinn said his latest effort to pay billions of dollars in state debt is centered on more loans - money borrowed by way of pension obligation notes.

"We will be selling those notes. We hope to have the cash in hand by the first half of this month to begin to pay down the debt," said Quinn.

Quinn also proposes an income tax increase as the centerpiece of his long term budget balancing act. The governor hopes the legislature will act on a tax increase plan shortly after the February 2nd primary.