Thursday, January 17, 2008

Not all seniors may ride free

I suppose this should work if, the proposed transit bailout complete with the Amendatory Veto by the Governor that would provide for free transit rides for seniors passes the General Assembly today. From the Sun-Times...
The House Mass Transit Committee on Wednesday approved Gov. Blagojevich’s last-minute change to the recently-passed transit funding bill, which would allow seniors to ride the CTA, Metra and Pace for free.

That sets the stage for the full House and Senate to vote on the amended measure today.

But members of the House committee also discussed plans to introduce a separate trailer bill today that would only provide free rides to low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

The trailer bill, if it passes, would allow the General Assembly to put caps on the governor’s plan to give seniors free rides without jeopardizing a transit funding bill that would avert Jan. 20 service cuts and fare hikes at the CTA and Pace by raising the sales tax in Cook and the collar counties.

The sales tax bill narrowly passed the House and Senate the first time, and many critics have accused Blagojevich of adding the senior clause to save face after breaking his campaign promise not to raise taxes. Some also question why seniors should be the only exempt group.

Even so, State Rep. Julie Hamos said preventing a transit meltdown should be the General Assembly’s top priority.

“All that matters is that we only have four days left [until “doomsday”],” she said during a packed public hearing Wednesday at the Thompson Center.

Mayor Daley had a similar message for Springfield Wednesday.

“Let’s just get it done. Let’s pass it. They have to pass this legislation . . . with the change. Everybody will accept that. Who cares? Let’s just pass this legislation. That’s how important it is,” Daley said.

While the governor’s amended bill would provide free rides to seniors 65 and up, regardless of income, the trailer bill would use the existing criteria for the state’s Circuit Breaker program to determine who qualifies for free rides.

Circuit Breaker provides property tax relief and discounts on license plates and pharmaceuticals to seniors and people with disabilities who meet certain income requirements. A household of two, for instance, would need to have a combined income of less than $29,480 to qualify for Circuit Breaker.

Roughly 366,000 people statewide would qualify for free rides based on that criteria.

Hamos said that even with the income caps, free rides could still cost the CTA, Metra and Pace $15 million to $30 million “at the low end.”

Letting all seniors ride for free would cost the transit agencies an estimated $30 million a year.
Sadly free rides will still cost something. If not to those senior citizens to everyone else who must pay, that is the taxes if not the fares.

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