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Corporations Are Waging a War on Public Resources But Are Trying to Duck Using the Term 'Privatization'

Corporations are looking for ways to capitalize on public assets without uttering the now unpopular term 'privatization.'

At the Hyatt Lodge Hotel on the McDonald’s corporate campus in Oak Brook, Illinois, June 24, the other wingtip dropped.

It happened at a conference called “It’s Not Privatization: Implementing Partnerships in Illinois”, organized by  The National Council for Public-Private Partnerships and the  Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce with assistance from the  Metropolitan Planning Council .

The conference revealed the corporate sector’s designs on the commons in Illinois, and how they intended to duck the increasingly unpopular label of privatization.

In recent years Chicago has become an epicenter of privatization.

In 2005 Mayor Daley assigned the Skyway Bridge connecting the city to Indiana to a consortium owned by Spanish and Australian companies. That deal got the city $1.83 billion for a 99 year lease. One analysis of the deal shows that the new owners stand to reap between $5 to $15 billion, depending on the traffic volume and how high they jack up the tolls.

In 2009 Mayor Daly gave our parking meters to a group of investors led by MorganStanley, which included the oil-rich sheikdom of Abu Dhabi. Chicago got $1.15 billion for a 75 year lease. The investors will earn in the vicinity of $11.6 billion over the life of the deal. Parking rates have skyrocketed, meters appeared in places that never been been metered before and the hours for paid parking were extended.

In each case, all the major planning bodies, civic watchdog groups and various park and public watchdogs were silent. Many supported these privatization schemes.

In addition to these schemes, Mayor Daley was also a master of tax increment finance districts (TIFs). Chicago has 160 of them and in 2009 they siphoned $519 million in property taxes away from the units of government that rely on them for operation. TIFs are supposed to be used to jump start development in “blighted” communities. But in Chicago they constitute a giant slush fund controlled by the Mayor and a few powerful aldermen. Public dollars from the TIF program have gone to such corporate giants as United Airlines, MillerCoors, Quaker Oats, Willis Insurance and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed to private developers with no oversight, accountability or citizen input.

Mayor Daley also hatched Renaissance 2010 plan in 2004 to create 100 new schools outside of the public school system. Two of the creators of the Chicago Small Schools Workshop critique the plan as having “more in common with the erosion of public space, with the ‘ownership society,’ than it does with democratic education.”Read their analysis here

The Skyway, the parking meters, the TIFs, Renaissance 2010– they all constitute the first wingtipped shoe of privatizing our commons in Chicago.

The Other Wingtip Drops

I was among a small group of activists attending the “It’s Not Privatization” conference on the McDonald’s campus, and as the presentations unfolded, I began to see how business, labor and legislators were lining up to assault the commons with the complicity of civic planning groups that are loaded with staff and board members with deep connections to Mayor Daley and the Chicago business community. You can see the presentations for yourself  here

The conference was underwritten by 14 major corporations. The Gold Sponsors included Veolia Water. In their own words, “With a workforce of 96,260 in 67 countries and revenue of €12.128 billion in 2010, Veolia Water is the leading global operator of water servicet.” The other Gold Sponsors were Lochner MMM Group (“dedicated to bringing its worldwide public-private venture experience to the U.S. infrastructure market”); Weston Solutions (“integrated environmental, sustainability, property redevelopment, energy, and construction solutions”); and Wight (“one of only a few firms that possess comprehensive design and construction capabilities in-house”).

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