Illinois governor OKs Midway takeover

| 5/26/2006

As talks continue about leasing the Illinois Tollway to private investors, the city of Chicago recently got authorization to lease Midway International Airport for up to 99 years.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed off on legislation that preserves the airport and several other properties’ tax-exempt status for any new operator. The Midway bill – SB2872 – clarifies that the airport, its parking garages and three recycling stations would remain tax exempt if leased to a private company, the Chicago Tribune reported.

A potential multimillion-dollar deal to privatize the airport has not been struck, but Chicago officials say they are considering the idea as a way to wipe out debt and pay for construction.

The new law requires 90 percent of the money the received be used for city construction and infrastructure maintenance and be deposited into city employee pensions.

Any lease deal would require the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration as well as airlines that serve the airport, the Tribune reported.

Legislative authorization to pursue a lease deal for the airport could be a preview of state action next year. Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, is looking into the possibility of leasing of the 274-mile Illinois Tollway system.

Schoenberg pointed out that the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road netted the Hoosier State $3.85 billion and the 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway brought in $1.83 billion. He said those figures could translate into a $14.6 billion price tag for the Illinois Tollway.

“The Illinois Tollway is now more attractive than ever to investors,” Schoenberg, co-chairman of the commission, recently told The road system is “well-positioned to bring Illinois to address some of its most critical needs,” including paying pensions and pulling in federal road dollars.