City Council approves infrastructure plan

April 24, 2012 3:23:08 PM PDT
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to rebuild city infrastructure with public and private money was approved Tuesday by the Chicago City Council, 41 to 7.

The mayor's administration calls the victory another major step in its effort to secure the city's fiscal future. Chicago will be the first big city in the country to use private capital to help rebuild its infrastructure -- even though we still don't know what kinds of transformative projects the mayor is talking about.

"Not only are federal and state resources no longer available...but the city of Chicago, itself, increasingly is unable to provide for its capital needs," Ald. Joe Moore, 49 Ward, said.

The aldermen who supported the trust spoke of a city desperate for money to rebuild its crumbling infrastructure.

"What we're doing today with the Chicago Infrastructure Trust is simply expanding our options. That's all we're doing," Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47 th Ward, said.

The planned multi-billion dollar infrastructure trust -- a kind of bank -- will invest private money in Chicago public works projects sponsored by the city, the CTA, the CHA, the public schools and park district.

"With money coming in from private entities, we can get that work done faster. We can hire more people to get that kind of work done," Ald. Sandi Jackson, 7 Ward, said.

"Nobody invests money to not get a return. And they expect big returns," Ald. Toni Foulkes, 15 Ward, said. Foulkes -- who is one of seven aldermen to vote against the trust -- says a mix of bankers and Chicago politicians leading it worry her South Side constituents.

"And they just don't trust. Period," Foukes said.

"Everything's open to abuse but we have put into place over 16 changes to this ordinance," Ald. Joe Moreno, Ward 1, said.

As its first project, the trust will finance the retrofit of city-owned buildings to save energy. The mayor still could not say what other projects might be considered.

"That's going to be the debate and the discussion about the of the things we're going to analyze is what is the economic value of making that particular investment," Mayor Emanuel said.

The aldermen passed the ordinance nearly eight weeks after President Clinton joined the mayor to announce the trust. The 40th Ward's Pat O'Connor says he does not believe more time would improve the council's product.

"The fact of the matter is that time does not equal quality all the time," O'Connor said.

Under the ordinance, the mayor must appoint a five-member board to govern the trust. That first retrofit project would cost more than $200 million. The plan is for the trust to be repaid with savings on energy on gas and electric bills.