The [Thursday] Papers
"Glimpses of a plan to slash spending on the state's health care program for the poor emerged Wednesday, with preliminary ideas ranging from eliminating a discount prescription program for seniors to stricter eligibility requirements that would leave thousands without health care coverage," the Tribune reports.
"One program on the list for possible elimination is Illinois Cares Rx, which provides discount drug coverage for 180,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities across Illinois.
"Also under consideration is limiting eligibility for adults enrolled in the Family Care health insurance program, which charges small co-pays and monthly premiums for services ranging from doctor visits to dental care and prescription drugs. If guidelines are changed, more than 26,000 people would no longer qualify for coverage."
"In a short-sighted move that will only result in larger bills for the city down the road, Chicago is shutting down half of its 12 mental health clinics," John Grohol writes on his PsychCentral site. "The mental health clinics serve lower income families, and those who can least afford to pay for behavioral healthcare services.
"Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel decided to shutter 6 of the city's 12 clinics in his 2012 budget, after Gov. Quinn's budget cuts to the state budget drastically reduced state payments for mental health services across Illinois."
For example, city mental health commissioner Bechara Choucair has lost his mind.
"Choucair said the department reforms are expanding access to mental health services and increasing support for the uninsured," ABC7 Chicago reports.
Writes Grohol: "How Dr. Bechara Choucair can make such a claim at the same time a city of nearly 3 million people will have only half its clinics is astounding. With just six clinics operating, that means a single clinic will have to serve a population of 500,000. We'd love to hear how cutting staff and physical service locations will actually result in 'expanding access.'"
Sort of in the same way that privatizing the city is good for the public.
In a bit of political theater, city council approval of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's infrastructure trust was delayed until Tuesday. But life-threatening health cuts to the poor remind us about the inefficiencies of market-based politics: Political leaders act with undue haste to serve the needs of the folks at the hugely profitable Chicago Mercantile Exchange because some trap door in the tax code treats them "unfairly" only because they have money to begin with, while the poor and needy who are most in need of service from their government are cast adrift for the very fact that they are poor and needy. (Ironically, a sizable percentage of traders - and corporate executives - surely utilize mental health services themselves, and now, through the generous help of the taxpayers, can better afford the best care available.)
So it is with privatizing investments in infrastructure. As the mayor has explained, investors will be looking for a return significant enough to be worth their while. How do you get such returns? That is one of the outstanding questions recalcitrant aldermen keep wondering. Generally, the answer is user fees. And the way to make user fees profitable is to either soak the masses (meaning the poor and what's left of the middle class) or build projects that serve the rich - thus skewing the city's needs and priorities.
For example, extending the Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street has been on the region's transit agenda for at least a decade. Could that be an infrastructure trust project? Only if investors find a way to make it profitable. And they might.
Curtis Black notes in Newstips that the CTA has already hired Goldman Sachs, Loop Capital, and Estrada Hinojosa to act as financial advisers for a Red Line extension, and that "When the infrastructure trust was first announced on February 29, the city's chief financial officer Lois Scott created a small stir by saying private financing for the Red Line extension could be paid for with distance-based fares."
So those south of 95th Street would get their extension but pay higher fares than the rest of us so investors could make not just a profit but a return higher than some other project where the rich folk could park their money instead.
On the other hand, private investors seeking to meet the mayor's mandate that the trust be used for truly "transformative" projects may dream up instead new and improved methods of serving the affluent in hopes of a big return. Perhaps new trains or roads prohibitively expensive to keep out the riff raff but rife with amenities - cocktail cars on a yuppie express or self-paving roads in Lincoln Park billed to Special Service Areas.
It's not really infrastructure, it's extrastructure. And it's not the stuff that a civic spirit is made of.
Budgeting for infrastructure through a public process that weighs priorities and chooses projects that are then paid for through broad taxation is part of what makes us a city; we're all in it together. Privatization, on the other hand - be it the proliferation of charter schools or the seating on airplanes of preferred members first or the "dynamic pricing" of already high-priced sporting events or even the new price of attending formerly free concerts at Taste of Chicago - is just another part of the continuing stratification of society that is tearing us apart. No wonder our political and social cultures have become so tribal. As the notion of "public" disintegrates, we hardly share anything anymore. Now roads and bridges and train lines?
But then, why not just take the whole city private and make Chicago, Inc. a profitable enterprise that can just shuck off cost centers like teachers and sick people? Or make Chicago a selective-enrollment city. It almost is anyway.
If you don't belong, you will be surveilled.
I don't know if Hairston was just referring to the new speed cameras that will be installed near parks and schools, but anyone assessing the surveillance in their own wards shouldn't forget to include red-light and blue-light cameras. I'd call the city's surveillance network "transformative infrastructure" of its own.
While the city taketh in some wards, though, it giveth in others.
Take the Fenway Plan - please. It's emblematic of the city's penchant for transferring money to those who already have it. Here is working model for the enormously wealthy Ricketts family as described by the Tribune's Phil Rosenthal:
"Per terms of the lease, Boston and the Boston Redevelopment Authority have been paid an average of $186,000 per year during the last nine years. And the Red Sox, according to a Boston Globe report by Northeastern University's Initiative for Investigative Reporting, have parlayed the use of those streets to up revenue by about $45 million, give or take a Fenway Frank."
The mayor says that neither a similar plan for Wrigley Field nor a rumored downtown casino would qualify as an infrastructure trust project because they are not "transformative" - really? - but more likely because investors needn't be lured for projects like that. They are already already secured.
Rahm's bank is more of a proposition that says "Make us an offer."
And while you'd think the city would already be open for business like that, these are offers that can be fielded in private and worked out under a set of priorities that doesn't necessarily reflect public need.
Six days from now - well, there's today and Friday, and then there's the weekend, then we've got Monday, and then the council votes on Tuesday, so really three days from now, that's the theater of it - Rahm will have his new bank and the transformative projects will flow in. Health care for the poor, the elderly and the mentally ill will not be among them.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Transformative.
Posted on April 19, 2012
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