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Mayor wants quick OK of infrastructure plan — but offers few new details

Alderwoman Sandi JacksState Senator Kwame Raoul State Rep. BarbarFlynn Currie Alderman John Pope listen as Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about

Alderwoman Sandi Jackson, State Senator Kwame Raoul, State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie and Alderman John Pope listen as Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about the relocation of Lake Shore Drive (Rt. 41) through the former USX steel mill development site on the Southeast Side. Tuesday, April 3, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 3, 2012 6:31PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he’s all for aldermen asking questions, but it’s imperative that they approve his plan to have five financing giants bankroll $1.7 billion in projects to help rebuild Chicago’s crumbling infrastructure.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that the proposed Infrastructure Trust ran into opposition this week from aldermen concerned about “hidden fees,” long-term leasing of city assets, minority participation and the selection of city projects by a five-member board that includes no aldermanic representation.

On Tuesday, Emanuel responded to that dissent by highlighting the $225 million in energy efficiency projects for government buildings expected to launch the trust and generate $20 million in energy savings that will be used to repay investors.

He would not discuss what other projects he wants to finance with the Infrastructure Trust or what, if any, user fees would have to be imposed to make certain investors get their money back with interest.

“I expect aldermen to ask questions. I want them to ask questions. ... But, the fact is, the vehicle gives us an opportunity to stop talking and start doing,” said Emanuel, who wants the ordinance approved at the April 18 City Council meeting.

“I want them to ask questions, which they’re gonna do. But it’s a proper vehicle to allow us to get the work done today and spread the payments over time and save taxpayers money, but create jobs today.”

During closed-door aldermanic briefings, sources said Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott has argued that the city has issued too much general obligation debt and needs to find another way to finance infrastructure projects.

The potential for a $1 billion commitment from Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, Inc, the Spanish-Australian consortium that paid $1.83 billion to lease the Chicago Skyway for 99 years, has raised concerns that the trust could be a vehicle to continue the frenzied sale of city assets that began under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

That’s the last thing aldermen want after being skewered for their lightning-fast approval of the 75-year, $1.15 billion deal that privatized Chicago’s 36,000 parking meters and locked in a steep schedule of annual rate hikes.

Last week, Emanuel repackaged previously announced CTA, water, sewer, parks, schools and City Colleges projects into a $7.3 billion plan and gave it a new name: “Building a New Chicago.”

He promised that Chicago’s publicly-owned assets would “remain publicly-owned.”

But, the mayor’s carefully-worded statement did not rule out another long-term lease like the deals that handed off the Skyway, downtown parking garages and the parking meters.

And although Emanuel campaigned on a promise to permanently ground the 99-year, $2.5 billion privatization of Midway Airport that collapsed for lack of financing, he has twice asked the Federal Aviation Administration to extend the deadline to keep the possibility alive. The second extension — until Dec. 31 — was requested last week.

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