He wants billions private investors to pay for public improvement projects. It's a notion worth watching.
Privatization may be a dirty word in Madison, Wis., and other cities.
But down in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants billions from private investors to pay for public improvement projects that could include roads, airports, transit and government buildings.
And so far he's getting his way with a 41-7 vote from the Chicago City Council and praise from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
It's an intriguing trend that's well worth watching for results.
"We are the most free market country in the world, yet we do our infrastructure in the most socialist way in the world," Emanuel said this month at a forum in Washington, D.C., according to The Chicago Tribune.
Yes, Emanuel is a Democrat. He's even President Barack Obama's former White House chief of staff. And his comment came with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray La Hood in the audience.
Emanuel has created the Chicago Infrastructure Trust to lure private dollars. He touts the plan as a "breakout strategy" for getting big projects going at a time when public dollars are tight.
The private investors would take on risk but also reap potential rewards - yes, profit, through user fees, savings or tax revenue.
For example, the first project would be as much as $225 million in energy efficiency improvements to about 100 city buildings. An estimated $20 million in annual savings on city heating bills would provide such financial giants as Citibank and J.P. Morgan with a return on their investments. And in the end, Chicago would still own the improved buildings.
Emanuel isn't following the usual Democratic talking points.
"I don't create jobs - the private sector does," he said at the forum, according to The Daily Caller. "But I can, I do, create the atmosphere and the environment where they can succeed or not."
Legitimate concerns about oversight and transparency are and should be raised. This is Chicago, after all, where politicians routinely go to jail.
Yet cities across the country need to rethink how to rebuild to encourage economic growth and jobs. Emanuel deserves credit for challenging the status quo.
Distributed by MCT Information Services.