Keeping true to the title of my blog, I am most interested in the "politics" of the deal. That brought me to Matthew Tully's column this morning when he analyzes the impact of the deal and suggests it could be a make or break moment for the Mayor politically. I disagree with the "make" and agree with the "break."
First, of all, one thing the media has missed is that the luster has been off privatization for quite some time. To give you an example, last night I stopped by a county Libertarian event to promote my candidacy for Pike Township School Board. (I am running as a team with Allison Maguire, the wife of Libertarian County Chairman Tim Maguire.). During a get together after the meeting, the issue of privatization as policy was raised. You would think that this group more than any other, would greet privatization with enthusiasm. Instead skeptics abounded. They had seen the failures of privatization in practice. (FSSA is but one glaring example.) One Libertarian made the comment that if it was going to be a service that had to be provided by government, he would rather have government workers provide the service than have it contracted out to a private company that is given a monopoly.
If you can't sell privatization to a group of Libertarians, how is Mayor Ballard going to sell it to the general public? The toll road lease brought in billions to be used for infrastructure repairs, but did Governor Daniels campaign on the issue? Absolutely not. It was the biggest such deal in the history of the state, but the Governor wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole on the campaign trail.
No, the reality of the political equation for Mayor Ballard is that, at best, there is very little political upside from doing the water/sewer deal and to do so requires that he walk through a field filled with land mines Democrats will gleefully plant. In addition, there is another political problem - the sale of the city's water and sewer utilities plays perfectly into the negative perception that Mayor Ballard is selling off the city to political insiders and campaign contributors.
Yes, there could be a building boom result out of selling these assets that might help his popularity somewhat, but those construction projects won't take place until months after the unpopular Mayor Ballard loses his bid for a second term, should he even decide to run for a second term.
Of course, this is not the first occasion this Mayor and his staff have a tin ear when it comes to politics.