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.
Metropolitan Planning Council