Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In Your Face!

Judy Barr Topinka, the outgoing (in more ways than one!) State Treasurer, was soundly defeated in her race for Governor. That race was hard fought, and she leveled charges against the incumbent Governor to the effect that the Governor was corrupt and that the State lacked the resources to take on new obligations like the All Kids program.

The RTA's Moving Beyond Congestion effort is pushing the Governor and the General Assembly to take on a new obligation, namely, a new transit subsidy on top of the existing State subsidies to the RTA and ultimately the service boards. This new obligation will amount to almost a quarter of a billion dollars in 2007 and will increase by at least $100 million a year thereafter.

Well, guess who the suburban Cook County members of the Cook County Board picked to fill a seat on the RTA Board? Judy Barr Topinka. It will be very interesting to see how Ms. Topinka squares her campaign trail assessment of the poor state of the State's finances with the RTA's efforts to impose a major new obligation on the State. Is a recently defeated gubernatorial candidate just the person to talk sense to the Governor who just defeated her?

Was Ms. Topinka's appointment a show of defiance by the unrepentant suburban Cook County Republicans? It is obvious that the suburban interests are getting geared up for a battle royale on the transit funding issue. One article reports that Lake County leaders are "digging in" for a "transportation money fight." There are strong hints that the suburban politicos are building a new team at Metra, Pace and on the RTA.

The key question, of course, is which way the suburbanites cut. They could fall back on the old City vs. suburbs dynamic and fight to protect Metra and the relatively low RTA sales tax in the collar counties. Going it alone and trying to cut loose the City of Chicago (and the inner ring of Cook County suburbs) and the CTA must be tempting.

However, it is possible that the changes in personnel on the suburban team will yield a more positive outcome. Perhaps the suburbanites can push develop a more comprehensive regional plan that recognizes that the transportation system in the region is truly interconnected and that highways and transit services must be managed together as one system on governance, funding, pricing and operational levels.

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