Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration had been bracing for another hefty disabled-parking reimbursement bill for 2011-2012. That third bill — for $22 million — arrived just last week, according documents Emanuel’s administration provided to the Chicago Tribune.
The mayor is refusing to pay all three bills, which total about $49.5 million, and has disputed how the company calculated them. Chicago Parking Meters has declined to respond to Sun-Times questions about the issue.
Meanwhile — in response to the Sun-Times recent “Meter Cheaters” investigation — the Illinois Senate this week approved legislation that is expected to stop Chicago Parking Meters from seeking multimillion-dollar reimbursements for providing free parking to the disabled.
Illinois law has allowed handicapped motorists to park for free in metered zones for decades. The legislation, now on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk, would change that in 2014.
It would set up a two-tiered disabled-parking placard system that would allow only wheelchair-bound and other severely disabled people to park for free in metered spots.
The Sun-Times last year observed dozens of able-bodied people using relatives’ placards, deceased people’s placards, fake placards and even stolen placards to cheat Chicago’s meter system. A subsequent Sun-Times report revealed that taxpayers are on the hook to reimburse the meter company for drivers who use disabled-parking placards or plates to park for free.
The deal that privatized Chicago’s meter system in 2008 has been widely criticized for selling taxpayers short. Under the plan championed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago Parking Meters was given the right to keep all meter revenues until 2084 in exchange for a $1.15 billion upfront payment to the city. Drivers have since seen sharp increases in parking rates under the deal.I predict that Mayor Emanuel will soon announce that the City is walking away from the 75-year lease and will fight it out in the courts with the private operator. He really has no choice given how obvious the deal has proven to be one-sided in favor of the private operator. Remarkably, there was little debate when former Mayor Richard Daley brought the 75-year lease before the Democratic-controlled Chicago City Council for debate in 2008. The cash-strapped city was just anxious to get its hands on the $1 billion payment, which it immediately spent to satisfy short-term obligations. With the city receiving no share of the parking meter revenues, it simply cannot afford these annual, ongoing multi-million dollar obligations to the private operator.