With Soaring Budget Deficits, will California go the Way of the Chicago Machine?

On December 2nd, rationalized as a quick fix to the budget deficit, Mayor Richard Daley said that the City of Chicago had agreed to Lease all 36,000 Chicago metered parking spaces for 75 years for a lump sum of $1.16 Billion dollars. The owner of this Lease: J.P. Morgan Chase. According to Bloomberg.com, Chicago will use $325 million to balance this year’s budget, leaving approximately $800 million in revenue.

As a condition of the deal, the city has agreed to continue enforcement of the meters, to increase the parking rates, and to no longer allow free parking on weekends and holidays. Additionally, meters in the “Loop” will have to be fed 24 hours a day. Drivers will pay $6.50 an hour by 2013 for downtown parking meters (more than double the current rate) and neighborhood parkers will see an eight-fold increase under the plan. Mayor Richard Daley was quoted as saying that the “agreement is very good news for the taxpayers of Chicago because it will provide more than $1 billion in net proceeds that can be used during this very difficult economy.” In his statement, he did not discuss the steep increase in meter fees the City’s taxpayers will bear.

For you conspiracy buffs, J.P Morgan Chase is the bank that bought Bear Sterns, with the Federal Reserve backing $30 billion dollars of bad assets that came with the deal, and purchased Washington Mutual from the government for $1.9 billion; the Federal Reserve provided the special financing of the companies’ illiquid assets at a rate that was cut to 3.25% just moments before the deal was struck. The Mayor of Chicago, who encouraged and lobbied for the parking meter deal on behalf of the city, is the brother of William M. Daley, former United States Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton, and currently on President Elect Obama’s transition team. Back in May of 2004, Daley was made Midwest Chairman of a bank by the name of J.P. Morgan Chase.

While some are howling at the consolidation of power and private control of public property, other are heralding the newest JP Morgan Chase purchase as a ideal way for city governments to raise needed capital while facing massive budget deficits. Chicago parking meters are the fourth major asset leased by the Mayor. The sell-off includes $1.83 billion for the Chicago Skyway, $563 million for the downtown parking garages, and $2.5 billion for Midway Airport.

With many of California cities’ and the State budget under water, could private Leasehold interests be purchased on our public lands next? If so, who will buy them? Who will broker the deals? And who will the conspiracy buffs attack?