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Ask the Right Questions Before Privatizing

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Elected officials need to do a better job of asking the right questions before they make a decision that we’ll live with for decades.

Too often, a mayor, governor or other public official proposes to sell off a public facility, privatize a public good or contract out a vital service, but fails to answer basic questions that decision makers and voters need to decide whether it’s a good idea.

For example, former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley rushed the proposal to lease the city’s parking meters for 75 years through the city council in just a few days after they (and the public) were given the details of the deal. Daley made the hard sell promising a buyer with $1.15 billion to fill Chicago’s budget hole if they acted quickly. Only after the deal was done and the dust settled did they learn that they sold nearly $1 billion too cheaply and that they had given away their rights for 75 years to manage the city’s traffic and land use to investment giants Morgan Stanley, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Allianz Capital
Partners. [Note: Daley just joined Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, the law firm that negotiated the deal to privatize Chicago’s parking meters.]

There’s an easy solution. Public officials, advocates and the media should ask these simple ten questions – and get the answers – before any final privatization decision. It’s a test to see if these deals will help, or hurt, the public interest.