When I heard the state was considering the sale of the James R. Thompson Center, the 17-story building with a curved glass exterior designed by Helmut Jahn, my first thought was, “We’re going to get ripped off.”
Mine is a minority position. The consensus seems to be that the Thompson Center, bounded by Clark, Lake, Randolph and La Salle streets in Chicago, ought to be sold. The structure built in 1985, which houses state offices, apparently requires about $300 million in repairs and sits on prime real estate that could attract a much larger development. In theory that would produce a cash windfall for the state and an injection of property tax revenue for the city.
Both government entities are in terrible financial shape due to mismanagement and corruption.
And that’s why I don’t trust our government to represent us when it comes to business deals.
Does anyone remember the city’s 75-year contract to lease its parking meters to a private company?
Chicago got $1.15 billion up front. But the parking meters are making so much money that the private firm that operates them will likely make that money back by 2020, with 60 years left on the contract.
Not only that, but whenever the city takes parking meters out of service, for parades and street repairs, it has to pay the private company, which amounts to millions of dollars every year.
You’re probably saying that deal was in 2008, a long time ago.
Well, in 2012 the Chicago Public Schools got involved in what would become a $65 million private consulting contract that ended up in a federal investigation and charges of fraud.
The guy who headed the consulting firm managed to persuade Mayor Rahm Emanuel to hire Barbara Byrd-Bennett as the CEO of the public schools and Byrd-Bennett, in exchange for $2.3 million in kickbacks, made sure the private company got the consulting contract.
On top of all that there were claims that the consultants never really did much to train Chicago school principles, which was the purpose of the contract.
Well, that’s Chicago and we all know how politicians do things in the big city, you say.
If you read the Sun-Times on Monday you may have noticed the headline, “State’s lottery privatization no jackpot.”
In 2009, with great fanfare, the state hired a private company to run the state lottery. But it turned out not to be so great when the private company kept missing sales goals set by its contract. That meant the state potentially lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn said he was going to get rid of the company, but didn’t. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a businessman who blasted Quinn for that failure, took over the state and has yet to fire the company.
In the meantime, the state keeps paying the firm to run the lottery as it looks for another private company to take over.
I will pause here to remind you that the lottery is actually a version of the old numbers game, which was run by organized crime, primarily in poor neighborhoods. it was considered a really sleazy way for criminal vultures to prey on desperate working folks looking to strike it rich.
Elected officials saw this and said, “Why should the mobsters be the only ones ripping off these suckers?”
So Illinois launched its lottery and when people complained it was an evil thing, elected leaders said they would use the money to fund public education.
As money flowed in to the state coffers, property taxes skyrocketed to fund the schools and Illinois adopted the most discriminatory system of education financing in the country.
Maybe selling the Thompson Center is a good idea. I just don’t trust the government to do it.
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