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Why privatize?

This letter ran in the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 23, 2009, in response to the Nov. 16 article, "Leasing water system could be a risky move for Chicago."

The most important question to ask about privatizing public assets is, “Why?”

Yes, public-private partnerships have potential to reduce traffic congestion or promote water conservation more efficiently than the public sector can alone. However, to protect public interests, a privatization agreement must ensure strong public oversight, reasonable profits, and infrastructure reinvestment. Without these benefits, privatization makes little sense and just increases costs for consumers.

Illinois law requires private utilities to charge for the full cost of their services; public utilities are exempt.  Thus, private utility rates are sometimes higher, but they reflect what the water truly costs – encouraging people to be more efficient, and generating revenues to maintain treatment and delivery.  If rates are artificially low, other tax revenues have to be diverted to pay for water service.  It comes down to pay a little more now, pay much more later, or don’t pay – and suffer the wasted water, energy, and money of deteriorating infrastructure.

The right answer, then, is not the one that balances the budget in the short run, but the one that best manages our water -- for current and future generations.

MarySue Barrett
Metropolitan Planning Council

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  1. 1. John A. Ostenburg from Chief of Staff, Chicago Teachers Union on December 20, 2009

    Mary Sue Barrett's comments about privatization of public assets is totally on target. However, I would recommend that the same standards be applied to the privatization of our public schools. Not only are private operators of public schools in Chicago posing the risks outlined in Ms. Barrett's letter, they also are doing so with tax dollar support. If ever there was a need for the "strong public oversight" that she refers to, it is in regard to the charter and contract school operators with whom the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is engaged. Valuable public resources -- our public schools -- have been handed over to private operators with only a minimal amount of public oversight, strong or otherwise. Legislation passed by the General Assembly last year improves this situation somewhat, not nowhere as much as is needed. I urge the MPC to join efforts of the Chicago Teachers Union and others to make sure private operators of our public schools are held accountable both for the tax dollars they receive and for the education they are providing to our children.

  2. 2. Kathreen from LOODROwRr on July 3, 2013

    One or two to rmeember, that is.

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