Chicago’s Emerging Leaders See Privatization of Infrastructure as Vital Urban Issue in Global Era

September 23, 2010
Chicago and cities worldwide are confronting aging infrastructure, strained fiscal budgets, and the need to remain globally competitive. Policymakers are looking to the privatization of infrastructure as a new source of revenue to address these issues.

According to The Chicago Council’s inaugural class of Emerging Leaders, the privatization of infrastructure can be completed in ways that benefit the government, private entities, and the general public if a more strategic framework is developed to assess what should be privatized and how. The group is releasing the first Emerging Leaders Perspectives report, No Free Money: Is the Privatization of Infrastructure in the Public Interest?, at a public program in Chicago this evening.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009, the United States would need $2.2 trillion in investments just to maintain its existing roads and bridges, an estimate that does not include the new investments in transit, energy, and communications required of the 21st century.

Policymakers are therefore considering privatizing government assets as a new source of revenue—often resulting in public controversies over process, use of proceeds, and the role of government.  Chicago is leading the privatization trend in the United States and can be a model for other cities, but it also has much to learn from its global counterparts who have been experimenting with privatization for decades. 

Drawing on lessons learned from around the globe, the Emerging Leaders Class of 2008 lays out criteria for discussing privatization and recommends the formation of  a Blue Ribbon Commission to help examine what kinds of assets are the best candidates for privatization, determine how the process ought to be conducted, and develop an effective public interest criteria. By asking the right questions and promoting a better public debate, the class concludes that if done right, the privatization of infrastructure can be in the public interest.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, with the support of the McCormick Foundation and the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, established the two-year Emerging Leaders Program to identify and engage the individuals who will equip the city to compete and thrive in the global era. Each year a class is selected through a competitive process and by an independent committee, and will produce a report on a pressing global challenge that affects Chicago and the Midwest.