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For the past several years, Cara has been on the front line leading the fight against the privatization of the city’s largest asset, St. Louis Lambert International Airport. With her as the biggest threat to this inside deal, the organizers of the scheme have stopped at nothing to get her out of the way – including waging a recall to get her thrown out of office.
The privatization proposal has been pushed by right-wing billionaire Rex Sinquefield and has been fraught with conflicts of interest since its inception in 2017. After the original proposal was pulled in January of 2019, an even riskier plan was concocted through an initiative petition. That was soon followed President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed filing a very similar bill.
The city could undoubtedly benefit from a large influx of cash; this is what makes the airport idea so appealing to some people. Parts of our city have been devastated by disinvestment and abandonment, forgotten by our city government.
But we must be smart about how we solve such problems. As an old saw says: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
After Sinquefield & Company realized the initiative petition he engineered would require two public votes, he pushed for the board president’s bill. It would need only one public vote.
The Rex Sinquefield-Lewis Reed airport privatization bill was:
1) An insider deal from day one.
- The conflicts have been outlined extensively.
- Sinquefield’s consultants would be paid $44 million off the top of the profit from the airport sale. The bill would also ensure that a 49-year deal is inked before the next mayor takes office.
2) An incredibly rushed job.
- The bill requires that bids be completed within 30 days of the public vote, ensuring that neither the city nor any bidder has time to perform adequate due diligence.
- The city has not conducted a valuation of the asset. This plan includes no time to do one.
- This is a short-sighted approach with major long-term implications.
3) A very risky proposition.
- Only one airport has been privatized in the continental U.S. It failed miserably and cost taxpayers twice as much money to reclaim it as they got for selling it.
- Of the $1.7 billion in revenue hoped for in selling the airport, more than $700 million would go off the top to pay debt. The city would then get $900 million for a 49-year lease and give up control and revenue for its largest asset. While $900 million is no small number, the city’s annual operating budget is $1.1 billion. The potential gain for such a long-term decision is not even equal to the yearly budget.
- Proponents of privatizing the airport have compiled a long list of hopes and dreams to fund from the profits of the sale. And then what? How are the projects going to be maintained or extended?
- The bottom line is that on top of these efforts being highly deceitful and completely lacking transparency the deal is just bad business.
Opposing this bad deal doesn’t mean Cara isn’t in favor of a plan to improve the airport. She just wants to do it responsibly and with public support. Read her thoughts on the future of our community’s aviation assets here.