Monday, February 14, 2005


When even Chicago and New York take privatizing transportation assets seriously, it may be an idea whose time has come:

ALBANY - Faced with a giant projected budget gap and a wobbly credit rating, the city of Chicago decided to pull the trigger last year on a plan it had been contemplating for nearly a decade: the privatization of an eight mile toll road known as the Skyway.

A Spanish-Australian consortium paid Chicago $1.83 billion to operate the road and collect tolls on it for 99 years. It was the largest cash transaction in city history, easily closing the projected $220 million budget shortfall.

It has not gone unnoticed by states and cities in similar straits.

In New York, where health-care costs eat up a larger and larger share of tax revenue each year, state officials have followed the Skyway project with interest. As a sign that Governor Pataki liked what he saw, the executive budget he issued last month included a proposal allowing for the privatization of toll roads, bridges, and tunnels.

The governor's proposal is thought to be a potential cure-all for two areas where giant sums of money are urgently sought: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is projecting a budget gap next year more than twice the size of the one that sent Chicago into privatization talks, and public education, where billions are needed to satisfy a recent court order in the lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

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