It’s worth a try if there’s any chance at all to overturn bad deals on parking meters, Skyway

Selling off public assets is a way for officials to plug budget holes in the short term but can leave taxpayers burdened with heavy long-term costs.

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Juan Gallardo of Chicago parks at a privatized parking meter on Lake Street in 2013.

Rich Hein~Sun-Times

The sell-offs of Chicago’s parking meters, Skyway and parking garages are millstones around the city’s neck. It’s time to take another shot at undoing these bad deals.

It’s not as if the city would be stiffing anyone. The private entities have already gotten their money back, with more than tidy profits besides. But if no one acts, city residents and visitors will be digging deep in their pockets for decades to pay for deals that never should have been made in the first place.

Lawyer Clinton Krislov, director of IIT Chicago-Kent’s Center for Open Government Clinic, previously tried to unwind the parking meter and garage deals on the grounds the city can’t legally sell the public way.

“I don’t see why a subsequent administration couldn’t challenge it, even if a prior administration decided it couldn’t challenge it,” Krislov said on Friday.

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The city did not support Krislov’s earlier effort, possibly because of a provision in the original parking meter contract that commits the city to support the agreement.

But the results of the latest parking meter audit suggest it might be wise to take another shot at easing the pain for city taxpayers. As the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman reported, Chicago Parking Meters LLC has fully recouped the $1.16 billion investment it made to gain control of the city’s parking meters and has made a hefty $502.5 million profit to boot.

That’s after just 14 years of the 75-year parking meter lease, which means taxpayers will be shelling out $30 million to $50 million a year going forward instead of getting revenue from the parking meters to help pay city expenses. After former Mayor Richard M. Daley privatized the parking meters, downtown rates went from $3 per hour in 2008 to $6.50 in 2013 and are now at $7.

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Meanwhile, the four underground city-owned garages took in $22 million last year, and the Skyway pulled in $114.5 million, a 34.7% increase.

Selling off public assets is a way for officials to plug budget holes in the short term, but it can impose severe long-term costs. If the lawsuit representing the city or taxpayers could manage to reverse Chicago’s bad deals, it could not only put money back in the pockets of taxpayers but also discourage the sale of other city assets in the future.

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