Sunday, January 6, 2008

Transit cuts again loom

Last week there was a special session in Springfield to look at the transit issue. Turns out no one from either house of the Illinois General Assembly didn't care about the special session and nothing got done. Since the budget battle went into overtime last summer this has been the general pattern when it comes to special sessions called by the governor, no one cares enough to show up and nothing gets done.

And once again the proposed cuts by the CTA is making the news. I know people are sick of doomsday threats, but I'm taking this seriously. Surely so are so many other CTA riders who may very well have lost their confidence in the state of Illinois to come to the rescue. Read on...

Twice in the last four months, train and bus riders faced the specter of ominous-sounding service cuts and fare increases, and both times Gov. Rod Blagojevich has postponed them by offering stopgap solutions.

With a third deadline for a transit meltdown just two weeks away, the governor once again could feel pressure to find another short-term fix that staves off commuter pain.

For a year now, lawmakers have been unable to agree on a long-term solution. If that continues to be the case Jan. 20, Blagojevich, as the state's chief executive, might have to roll up his sleeves one more time. Worse for the governor is if lawmakers agree on a plan to raise the sales tax by a quarter-point in Chicago and the suburbs to provide lasting mass transit money -- Blagojevich has vowed to veto such a tax increase, but doing so risks the wrath of riders and leaders such as Mayor Richard Daley who back the idea.

Blagojevich isn't ready to publicly entertain the notion he'll have to come up with another quick fix. His spokeswoman said the governor is "exclusively focused right now on getting the legislature to pass a long-term funding solution."

Instead, he's trying to keep the onus on lawmakers.

"We're never going to have a long-term solution for the CTA until the legislature passes something that I can either sign or adjust," Blagojevich said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, all three transit agencies -- the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace -- are preparing for the worst. Sixty-day layoff notices already have been sent out to nearly 2,400 CTA employees. Unemployment workshops were held. CTA employees will be dispatched next week handing out fliers to remind riders of the cuts and fare hikes, and signs will be posted on 6,000 stops and on buses and trains notifying riders of the 81 CTA routes that are being eliminated. New route maps are being printed, and some fares will rise as high as $3.25.

Pace is preparing to cut all evening service and weekday or weekend service on 102 fixed routes, and 65 Metra feeder and shuttle routes. Fares on all suburban bus routes will increase to $2. A 10-percent fare hike on Metra would go into effect Feb. 1.

Republican lawmakers have pressed for even higher fares, saying the transit system should solve its own problems if possible. But even if passenger fares on the CTA, Metra and Pace were to double, the additional revenue wouldn't come close to solving the transit system's financial problems, according to a 2007 report from Illinois Auditor General William Holland.

House members could pass a transit bill as early as Wednesday. Though other legislation has stalled at that point in recent months, Senate President Emil Jones will call a vote on any transit bill that makes it out of the House, according to Jones spokeswoman Cindy Davidsmeyer.

For many lawmakers, the big question is whether any transit bill can move forward if legislative leaders haven't also agreed on a massive public works package that would be paid for by a major gambling expansion.

"There's already people, me being one of them, who say we can't vote for a mass transit bill until we have our capital bill," said Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete). "There are things that are important for the entire state and it needs to all be worked out."
The governor is already unpopular. As much as I hate the idea of a tax increase if it could stave off "doomsday" then he should just back off of his pledge to veto a sales tax increase. Why make it more difficult to solve this issue than it already it. Either way let's hope that the governor and lawmakers can come up with a viable solution.

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