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Article updated: 1/31/2013 6:11 PM

Durbin wants cash payback before privatizing Midway

By Marni Pyke

Not so fast, Sen. Dick Durbin cautioned federal regulators who have final say on whether Midway International Airport should be privatized.

The city of Chicago is studying whether to lease Midway on a long-term basis as part of a privatization pilot program run by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Durbin pointed out that federal tax dollars revitalized Midway. "The $378 million invested in Midway helped rebuild runways, taxiways and a new terminal," he told U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a letter.

"The federal government has borrowed heavily to make investments at Midway and other airports across the country. However, when a city or state sells or leases a federally funded airport, the Pilot Program does not require those federal funds to be repaid.

"The federal taxpayer should have a seat at the table during negotiations," Durbin noted. Those tax dollars should be repaid, he added, and used for projects such as modernizing O'Hare International Airport.

For the city's part, Emanuel told reporters this week he was approaching possible privatization with "a critical eye."

"I think the mistake of the past was people rushed into trying to do leasing. On Midway, I've set up a different structure and a different process so you could actually approach it with caution," Emanuel said.

As for repayment, "I think we're a ways off from that decision to even go forward," Emanuel said.

The mayor has established an advisory committee that includes city aldermen, business, labor and civic group representatives to explore a possible lease.

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