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Mayor says he made ‘bad’ parking meter deal better

Updated: June 3, 2013 3:25PM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday there’s nothing he can do to make a “bad” parking meter deal that’s “worse than we knew” into a good one but he made it better by swapping a longer paid parking day for free neighborhood parking on Sundays and wiping $1 billion in future liabilities off the books.

“The choice is, live with what we have for the next 71 years or eliminate a [$1 billion] bill taxpayers would have to fork over the next 71 years, get free Sundays in our neighborhoods and pay by cell [phone]. That’s a choice the City Council should debate and decide,” he said.

“The question before us is, which one do we want: the status quo or not and the changes I provided. If we don’t, we’ll make that decision.”

Some aldermen have argued that Emanuel created the potential for yet another potential windfall for Chicago Parking Meters LLC by trading free Sunday parking in Chicago neighborhoods for a longer parking day.

Emanuel flatly rejected that argument. To drive the point home, he read aloud the names of some of the Chicago neighborhoods in line for the Sunday parking freebie in alphabetical order, starting with Albany Park and ending with Wicker Park.

“Greater downtown vs. the neighborhoods. That’s the trade. On the other hand, remember: Today, we pay for Sundays. Eighty-one percent of the meters in the city — over 70 neighborhoods — will be free,” he said.

Emanuel’s $1 billion savings estimate starts with the fact that the company’s reimbursements claims of $50 million over the last two years for metered parking spaces taken out of service because of policing actions have been settled for $8.9 million.

Since similar claims would have been made in each of the next 71 years — and won’t be now that the company has agreed to accept the city’s reimbursement formula — that adds up to more than $1 billion in savings, the mayor contends.

“This was a bad deal…and there’s nothing you can do to make a bad deal a good deal. It is worse than we knew, when the fact is we were gonna pay out $20 million-a-year over the next 71 years. So we’re stuck with this,” Emanuel said Wednesday.

Aldermen have further argued that, instead of tweaking the parking meter contract, Emanuel should have joined a taxpayers’ lawsuit that seeks to get out of a widely-despised deal.

The mayor scoffed at those suggestions, adding, “We don’t have the money. We spent it prior to my coming here….We don’t have the billions of dollars.”

Emanuel has promised to give aldermen 30 days to decide whether to go along with his proposed changes after getting just three days to approve the original deal.

Before the vote, top mayoral aides have also promised to release an analysis they claim shows that providing free neighborhood parking on Sundays would cost Chicago Parking Meters LLC $8 million-a-year, while the company would recoup just $7 million through the longer parking day.

Closed door briefings are now under way to try and sell the mayor’s plan to aldermen who took a political beating for approving the original parking meter deal.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, is making no predictions.

“Saving $1 billion is a fairly compelling argument, but this deal has had a number of different nuances that nobody really understood when it was passed. We keep finding new ones every day, so we’ll see,” O’Connor said.

Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) added, “You should ask us the question: Why the hell did we vote for it in the first place?”



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