* Former state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg writes in Crain’s that a bipartisan legislative panel he co-chaired a dozen years ago found that a partial, 75-year lease of the Tollway could yield between $15 billion and $23.8 billion. Schoenberg, who left the Illinois Senate to advise the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation (not mentioned in the piece), says the issue ought to be reopened. But he has some caveats…
The Pritzker administration’s due diligence must ensure that any plan to bring private capital into public infrastructure not only retains public ownership of those assets, but also insists upon a high standard of accountability and transparency for the tollway’s spending practices and policies. […]
• The bitter aftertaste of Chicago’s parking meter privatization means that after the tollway’s bonds are paid off, any Illinois deal must have an iron-clad provision binding proceeds exclusively to the unfunded pension liabilities. And no slicing off a chunk of the money to increase base spending, either (see 2003 Blagojevich pension obligation bonds).
• In the Chicago Skyway transaction, eliminating union jobs didn’t favorably impact the deal’s financials for prospective investors; the Daley administration’s decision to do so was driven by factors that wouldn’t show up on a spreadsheet. Consequently, it ‘s essential to maintain the collective bargaining agreements for tollway employees.
• A major takeaway from the original Indiana Toll Road agreement crafted by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels was that a portion of the revenues realized by the Hoosier State was set aside for a 10-year stabilization fund to absorb all or part of motorists’ “sticker shock” resulting from toll increases.
• Unlike the Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road, the Illinois Tollway system is much bigger and in far better condition—in concrete and on the balance sheet. Illinois taxpayers therefore should expect a significantly larger upfront payment from the winning bidders.
Your own caveats?