Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Governor's Proposed Budget: Lean Times For Public Transit

Governor Blagojevich announced his proposed FY 2008 budget today. It is evident that the RTA's Moving Beyond Congestion initiative did not make a positive impression on the Governor and his staff.

The proposed amounts for the RTA system are listed (pgs. 356-58 of 488) with the previous year's enactment in parentheses:

FY 2008 Proposed Amounts For RTA System (in thousands)

Reduced fare reimbursement: $37,318.1 (no change from FY 2007)
Paratransit: $54,251.1 (no change)
RTA Debt Service: $135,000.3 (no change)
RTA Operating Assistance: $193,000.0 ($186,900.0 in FY 2007)
Total: $419,869.7 ($413,769.7 in FY 2007)

Recall that in the Moving Beyond Congestion Final Report RTA asks for an additional $400 million in new operating subsidies, an increase of almost 100 percent. What the RTA is getting in the Governor's proposed budget is just a 1.5 percent increase.

The State support for the RTA in the FY 2008 proposed budget is only 2.7 percent higher than in FY 2006, but it is 12.9 percent higher than the FY 2005 budget. This because in FY 2006 the State for the first time made a contribution against the cost of providing paratransit service in northeastern Illinois. The contribution level--$54,251,600--stayed the same in FY 2007 and no increase is proposed in FY 2008.

The RTA's proposed allocation of almost $414 million to public transportation in the six-county region represents almost one-fifth of IDOT's total operating budget for the entire state.

Maybe the signal being sent by the Governor's proposed budget to the RTA and the service boards is this: Shrink the system to fit the RTA sales tax income stream or come to the General Assembly with a plan to radically revamp the way the region does transit and that gets the Governor and the General Assembly excited about increasing the State's investment in the region's public transit system.

The Moving Beyond Congestion effort was no doubt well-intended and folks worked desperately hard on the strategic plan. The fact that the Plan did not move the Governor to increase support of public transit indicates that it is time to put the Plan aside. It is no longer credible to push for huge amounts of new transit funding without a commitment to make major changes in the way the region's public transit system is organized and operated.

The Governor's proposed capital budget will be released separately. Maybe transit will fare better there. Stay tuned.

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