Committee OKs mayor's plan to fund infrastructure projects

April 16, 2012 3:26:34 PM PDT
A City Council committee approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to set up a private trust to finance public infrastructure projects Monday.

The full council will vote on the infrastructure trust proposal on Wednesday.

Before Monday afternoon's vote, skeptical aldermen spent hours grilling Lois Scott, Chicago's chief financial officer, about the mayor's plan.

"I'm not against this, I just want my questions answered," said Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward.

Scott reminded the aldermen that the Chicago Federation is already on board.

"Labor leadership understands that the trust offers a rare opportunity for a win-win: Building critical infrastructure and creating union jobs around the city," said Scott.

"I think it's a good thing, but it's also something that we need to proceed with caution," said Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward. "It could benefit us but it also could backfire."

Several aldermen, however, said they need more information before voting on the ordinance as soon as Wednesday.

"I'd like to have more questions answered, and I don't think we're going to get those answered in the next two days, that's my only concern," said Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th Ward.

In late March, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former president Bill Clinton announced the Chicago infrastructure trust would be the first of its kind in any city in the country. Private investors would deposit billions in the bank for use not only by the City Council, but also by the public schools, the CTA, CHA and park district boards.

"These are all appointed by the mayor, and if you look at that you are essentially funneling all the power for decision-making in the city away from taxpayers, away from Chicagoans and into one person's hands," said Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward.

Outside the council chamber, about two dozen demonstrators worried that the elected council might lose control of city assets.

"The parking meter sell-off was flashy too, and look where that got us," said Amisha Patel, Grassroots Collaborative.

Some aldermen questioned the need to approve the trust this week.

"Is there a time-sensitive benchmark we need to hit here or else the whole thing falls apart?" said Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward.

"The infrastructure demands are so great and the gap is widening and people can't wait much longer for jobs and economic development," said Scott. "We believe now is the right time to act."