Wednesday, January 10, 2007

RTA Governance: Where is the State of Illinois?

RTA governance issues appear to be off limits for the Moving Beyond Congestion proponents, including the CTA, Metra and Pace. Nonetheless, there are other stakeholders in the regional public transit system that may focus on that issue in the upcoming battle royale in the General Assembly over public transit funding.

The State of Illinois is one such stakeholder. Currently, it provides several operating subsidies for the RTA system. The biggest subsidy is the Public Transportation Fund contributions that are payable to the RTA pursuant to section 4.09 of the RTA Act. The PTF contributions are equal to 25 percent of the RTA sales tax revenue and were $179,975,000 in 2006.

In addition, to the PTF contributions, the RTA 2007 Budget Book (pg. 39 of 43) shows that the State provides additional operating subsidies. In 2006 it paid $36,275,000 to help the service boards cover the cost of reduced fares for the elderly and other eligible classes of customers. The State also paid $54,252,000 to help cover the cost providing paratransit service.

The MBC initiative is designed to extract substantially more operating funding from the State. The RTA budget presupposes a new "Additional Funding" subsidy of $144,744,000 in 2007. This new annual subsidy will rise rapidly to $334,811,000 in 2009. Existing subsidies will increase as well. If the MBC plan is adopted, from 2006 to 2009 total State operating subsidies will increase from $267,047,000 to $668,554,000, an increase of 150 percent. The State share of the operating subsidies for the region's public transit system will increase substantially as a percentage of total RTA operating expenditures as well, growing from 29.3 percent to 49.5 percent:

2006 State Operating Subsidies: $267,047
State Share of RTA Operating Expenditures: 29.3 percent

2009 State Operating Subsidies: $668,554
State Share of RTA Operating Expenditures: 49.5 percent

On top of paying a swiftly growing share of operating subsidies under the RTA/MBC plan, the State also makes substantial capital contributions to cover principal and interest payments on RTA debt. This kind of State subsidy was $119,001,000 in 2006 and will grow to $127,500,000 in 2009. Presumably, the State will be asked to contribute significantly more capital funds to the RTA if the MBC succeeds in convincing the General Assembly to embrace its ambitious capital plan, which could cost as much as $56.9 billion over the next 30 years. When this additional form of State financial assistance is included, the State's share of total RTA expenditures is as follows:

2006 Total State Financial Assistance: $378,466,000
State Share of Total RTA Expenditures: 34.2 percent

2009 Total State Financial Assistance: $796,054,000
State Share of Total RTA Expenditures: 50.6 percent

The six-county RTA region is home to two-thirds of the State's population and generates most of the State's GNP. There clearly is a strong State interest in an effective public transportation system. Yet, despite this strong state interest and despite the projection that the State may soon be providing half of the RTA's funding, it has no direct representation on the RTA board. Further, neither the Governor nor anyone else in state government has any appointment power with respect to the RTA board.

Maybe it is time to go back to the future. Roughly 35 years before it created the RTA, the General Assembly created another regional transportation agency, namely the CTA, via the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act. Despite its name, the CTA was (and is) authorized to provide public transit service throughout much of Cook County (70 ILCS 3605/3). In other words, the General Assembly once before had to face the question of how best to balance Chicago and suburban interests in putting together a transit agency

Even through the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act, unlike the RTA Act, does not require the State to provide any subsidies for the CTA, the State has a major role in selecting members the CTA's seven-member board. (70 ILCS 3605/20) Appointments to the CTA board are allocated as follows:

-- The Governor appoints three board members, with the advice and consent of the State Senate. One member must be from outside of the City of Chicago.
-- The Mayor of Chicago appoints four board members.

Given the large and growing financial support the State gives the RTA, and the importance of a good transportation system to Illinois, might the CTA board provide a model for how RTA board directorships should be allocated between the State and local governments?

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