Sunday, January 7, 2007

Beginning the Discussion on RTA Governance

The Moving Beyond Congestion effort is studiously silent on the issue of RTA and service board (CTA, Pace, Metra) governance. That issue is potentially the most explosive political issue involved in the upcoming debate over transit next to only the issue of how transit subsidies are raised and distributed among the service boards. The issue of governance thus merits some sustained attention.

The General Assembly passed the RTA Act in 1983. Section 3.01 of the RTA Act establishes the governance structure for the RTA. The RTA has a 13 member board of directors. The directors are allocated as follows:

- 4 directors chosen by the Mayor of Chicago with the advice and consent of the City Council.
- The Chairman of the CTA.
- 4 Directors appointed by the members of the Cook County Board elected from that part of Cook County outside of Chicago
- 2 Directors appointed by the Chairmen of the county boards of Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties,
- 1 Director appointed by the Chairman of the Board of DuPage County with the advice and consent of the County Board of DuPage County
- A Chairman appointed by the other 12 Directors with the concurrence of eight directors

Section 3.01(h) of the RTA Act provides that every decade the 12 directors must be reallocated based on population. This important provision reads as follows:

The Board of Directors shall be so appointed as to represent the City of Chicago, that part of Cook County outside the City of Chicago, and that part of the metropolitan region outside Cook County on the one man one vote basis. After each Federal decennial census the General Assembly shall review the composition of the Board and, if a change is needed to comply with this requirement, shall provide for the necessary revision by July 1 of the third year after such census. Provided, however, that the Chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority shall be a Director of the Authority and shall be considered as representing the City of Chicago for purposes of this paragraph.

The 2000 census results are as follows, along with with each area's percentage of population in the six-county region:

Cook (outside Chgo.)/2,480,725/30.7%
Collar Counties Total/2,714,979/33.6%

Applying the 2000 population percentages to the three relevant areas yields the following distribution of the 12 RTA board members (the Chairman is not included for allocation purposes):

Chicago: 4 board members, including the CTA Chairman (decrease of one member)
Cook Cty. outside of Chicago: 4 members (no change)
Collar Counties: 4 members (increase of one member)

The significance of this reallocation of board seats can hardly be overemphasized. Key RTA decisions such as approval of the RTA's annual budget require a 9-person super-majority vote. Currently, if the RTA Chairman sides with the suburban majority the four Chicago directors plus the CTA Chairman can block RTA actions that require a super-majority vote. After the reallocation of directors according to the 2000 census, the Chicago/CTA bloc will be down to 4 members and the RTA Chairman plus all the suburban directors will have enough votes to authorize all RTA actions. Such a state of vulnerability is especially problematic for the CTA, which is heavily dependent on RTA discretionary operating funds.

The RTA Act's direction that board members be reallocated by every third year after the decennial census (e.g., 2003) is a direction to the General Assembly. The General Assembly may have the legal discretion to ignore its own directives. It is likely the the Moving Beyond Congestion proponents--the RTA, CTA, Pace and Metra--have agreed not to rock the governance boat in the interest of holding together their coalition. At some point, however, the General Assembly is going to have to deal with the RTA governance issue.

No comments: