Chicago Parking Meter Deal Redux: We Will Pay More to Park

It will be our priviledge to pay more so that the City can save money.  Wait a minute….

The City has a budget issue today, so it proposes to give away parking rights into infinity to patch the here-and-now.  The Mayor sells the proposal as being a $1 Billion gain for Chicago taxpayers.  He gives his City Council 30 days to agree with him.

A Groundhog Day moment? Déjà vu all over again?

According to Mayor Emanuel, the City has two years worth of outstanding invoices from Chicago Parking Meters totalling $49 million.  For the most part, this amount represents monies invoiced by CPM under the terms of the original contract for parking meter revenues that CPM was unable to receive from some meters because of street parking modifications or conditions. CPM is the private company that runs the parking meters on the streets through the now-notorious Parking Meter Deal struck by Emanuel’s predecessor, Mayor Daley, and his City Council.  Emanuel’s City Council is practically the same as the one that passed the Parking Meter Deal in the first place.  So, will City Council distinguish this baby from the bath water?

Mayor Emanuel is proclaiming that the proposed settlement with CPM represents a $1 Billion savings to Chicago taxpayers.  He derives this sum through the following tortured statement: “The $40 million difference between what was invoiced and what would be paid under this agreement represents over $1 billion in estimated future charges in today’s dollars to the City over the life of the contract that will no longer be payable.”  The linguistic moat around this statement reminds us of that watershed moment in wordplay history when President Clinton uttered the truly magical statement: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” The $40-million-represents-$1-Billion statement will be eminently defensible even if, 97 years from now, anthropologists determine that it proved to have equalled something quite a bit different to Chicagoans.

The fact is that an arbitrator determined that the City is bound, under the terms of the original Parking Meter Deal, to pay the $49 million to CPM.  CPM’s offer to release the City from having to pay $40 million dollars now does not come free of charge, naturally.  To satisfy CPM, the City will be allowing it to collect additional revenues by (1) expanding the Parking Meter hours beyond 9 p.m. in various areas of the City (to 10 p.m. or midnight, depending on the area), and (2) allowing CPM will offer a fee-based Pay-By-Cell service.  Mayor Emanuel was able to extract a concession, however, by which “metered parking spaces in Chicago neighborhoods will now be free on Sundays”.  Since this is described as being a “much-needed benefit to people attending religious services”, we take pause from getting too excited about the limited scope of the glorious give-back.

So, the settlement announced by the Mayor might be better looked at as a way of pushing a current budgetary issue onto future parkers instead of on the taxpayers.  At least some of the debt will be paid by non-Chicagoans under this structure.  But this also seems to allow the inference that the remedy is strikingly similar to the root of the problem – an expensive transfer of future wealth to a here-and-now problem.

The most instructive of the Mayor’s statements might be the following: “While we cannot turn back the clock and undo the parking meter deal, we have shown we can improve it and can certainly learn from it.”  Well, then this might be considered the mother of all student loans.