Wednesday, January 9, 2008

2 mass transit funding bills up for House vote

From today's Tribune...
Speaker Michael Madigan predicted the House will pass two mass transit funding solutions Wednesday to help Chicago-area bus and train riders, a move that would pressure Senate President Emil Jones and Gov. Rod Blagojevich to act fast.

Madigan indicated Tuesday he plans to move forward with legislation to raise the sales tax in Chicago and the suburbs and a separate proposal to divert gas tax funds to the Regional Transportation Authority as a Jan. 20 deadline looms for service cuts and fare increases.

"I expect that both bills will pass the House," said Madigan, not one to routinely issue predictions.

The Chicago Democrat's comments came a day after Blagojevich stopped short of repeating his constant threat to veto the sales tax hike plan. But the governor, without offering specifics, suggested he might be able to "improve" whatever bill lawmakers send him by using his amendatory veto powers.

The sales tax package would impose a one-quarter percentage point sales tax hike in Cook County for transit and a one-half percentage point increase in the five collar counties for transit and roads. Additionally, Chicago leaders could opt to increase the city's real estate transfer tax.

The second proposal would divert about $385 million generated by a tax on gasoline sales in the six-county area. But although the diversion removes funds now used for a variety of state purposes, lawmakers have yet to settle on how to replace that money. One option is a statewide tax increase of 90 cents on a pack of cigarettes in a state where Chicagoans are already paying one of the highest overall taxes in the nation and smokers no longer can light up indoors.

Blagojevich prefers the gas tax diversion plan, but spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said he is "encouraged to hear the House is ready to act."

Because it is a new year, lawmakers need only a simple majority to make the transit aid a reality. For the last seven months, lawmakers faced a three-fifths requirement because they failed to act before their May 31 adjournment deadline -- a margin that proved elusive.

Rep. Skip Saviano (R-Elmwood Park), the architect of the gas tax diversion, cast doubt on its passage because his Downstate colleagues may want to know how the funds would be replaced. Saviano also said he would not support the sales tax package but expected it to pass.
There's more discussion of these two bills over at the Capitol Fax blog.

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