Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Free the Transit Four!

Today's Sun-Times editorial is entitled "Stop Holding Transit Hostage in Springfield." The gist of the editorial is that the efforts by the RTA, CTA, Metra and Pace to extract more money from the State of Illinois are being held up by the Governor:

In fact, the governor is essentially holding mass transit hostage, promising to help find more money for it only if lawmakers support his controversial new tax. With that tax plan going nowhere, it appears likely that transit funding is at risk. But it shouldn't be.

The editorial praises the Metropolis 2020 group for its recent report suggesting a variety of ways to raise more money for transit in the six-county RTA region:

But last week, the business group Chicago Metropolis 2020 picked up the baton and called on Springfield to make mass transit funding a priority. The group even stuck its neck out and recommended specific tax increases, coupled with reforms that would give the RTA more authority and make all the agencies more accountable.

The group said it favored using a combination of a regional gas tax, a boost in the regional sales tax, a widening of the sales tax to include consumer services and a tax on nonresidential off-street parking. In addition, it called for the three agencies to implement an integrated fare system with fares that vary based on factors such as distance, speed and time of day. The group said one of the principles on which it based its recommendations is that the beneficiaries of the new investment -- drivers and mass transit users -- should be directly involved in paying for it.

Two observations:

1. Isn't it unfair to single out the Governor as the hostage-taker? Not one of the legislative leaders from either side of the aisle has stepped forward and made transit a priority. Nor have any of them made a tax proposal as specific as the Governor's proposal. What does the Sun-Times expect, transit funding to materialize out of thin air? Indeed, has the Governor made any statement opposing regional taxes and fees to support the RTA system? Has anyone asked him?

2. The Metropolis 2020 report and the Sun-Times editorial may hint that regional revenue generating measures to fund public transit may be increasingly viable solutions now that the Governor and the General Assembly seem disinclined to increase State funding for public transit in this region. These measures include increasing the RTA sales tax rate, expanding the reach of that tax, fare increases, and taxes on gas and parking spaces. Raising $2.4 billion a year in the six-county area equates to roughly $285 per year per person in the region, over $1,000 per family of four.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

CM2020 stuck "the average joe's" neck out with their preferred revenue sources (taxes) and fare increases. But the average joe is already paying. What about the real beneficiaries--the downtown real estate interests--how much of their necks have been extended? CM2020 advances diversions and canards under a thin layer of flimsy science--all for the benefit of their members' and associates' bottom line.

DB said...

Anonymous is pushing a demented argument, frankly. Who is it that provides jobs and pays the bills? Among many other things, the business interests that are advocating transit. I suspect they know a thing or two about what's involved in getting good employees and making it physically possible for them to come to work. If we don't have transportation, it strangles urban centers. Increasingly, bad transportation chases business out of the state and out of the country.

Today's taxophobia is very reminiscent of antebellum southern plantation owners, who knew way more about fishing for government handouts, favorable regulations (e.g. slavery) and tax breaks than they did about running businesses. There comes a point where you need a government agency with a tax to get somewhere. How did US cities beat European cities to the punch between the civil war and World War 1? While European cities nit-picked and nickel-and-dimed over taxes, we had no compunction whatsoever about levying taxes to build infrastructure such as streets and transit and built up a huge advantage on infrastructure and ultimately economics. By 1914, we had good transportation and clean water while they did little else but expand their military. We all know how that turned out -- we got the American Century and they got two world wars. Now they've learned a thing or two since then and we seem to be forgetting our own example.

Anonymous said...

db knows not what he speaks of. Sales taxes are already in place. The missing revenues--that other part-- should come from the beneficiaries of the discounted labor "delivered" to market, that is subsidized by everyone except the consumer of that labor--the downtown real estate interests. To make it simple for db... does db know what the average wage increase would be downtown without the underwrite from transit? To cover PARKING and DRIVING? Over time? Does db understand that the renters of that office space would seek overall lower labor costs along I88 or I290? Doe db understand the consequences of that? Can db say Sch-au-m-burg? How about St-ar-Li-ne? db should put down the propaganda and look at the underlying economics.

db said...

Anonymous's future vision evokes the Midwest's greatest urban failure -- Detroit. Get rid of "inefficient" transit, build roads, and watch all the downtown business move to Southfield. (Once you've driven every competent, functional person out of the central city, let a crooked machine run what's left into the ground.)

Sure enough, if you slash transit and let the "market" "decide" (in other words, get rid of transit funding but leave government-run arrangements for funding highways in place such as gas taxes, bonding, local property taxes for local streets and so on), private business will be driven out to Schaumburg, Lisle or wherever -- except, of course, if you do this in an age of soaring gas prices and untrammeled oil company profiteering that has driven Chicago gas prices above Canadian levels, you don't just screw the downtown business interests, you screw everyone, and people will leave Chicagoland altogether in search of places that actually have functioning AND affordable transportation. After all, Southfield had to share the fruits of the dismemberment of central Detroit with other metro areas and even countries. Is that what we really want in Chicago?

How about a pricing system for all transportation that reflects externalities?

Anonymous said...

Who said anything about "slashing" transit? The confusion over who benefits and who should contribute is what will eventually ruin transit. Think man...before you parrot.

db said...

Well, if what you have in mind is a low-government model in which employers contribute to modes of transportation that benefit them, that sounds perfectly good to me. Just as long as it truly applies to all modes of transportation. If transit-dependent businesses pay but highway-dependent ones don't, that won't work, especially if we remain with the govenrment-led pro-road polices and anti-density zoning that have given suburbs a leg up they would not have had otherwise.

Question is, would CM2020 suggest "developer pays" on all infrastructure. I suspect not, because as you suggest it would put their own members in an uncomfortable position -- and as I imply, it would alienate suburban interests from CM2020 even more than now. If such an initiative came from an organization like CM2020, great, I would admire their guts -- but in reality it probably has to come from the grassroots, which I guess means us.

Anonymous said...

db-

You're starting to think this through. Riders and the general public have been brainwashed into believing that transit benefits them exclusively. It doesn't. Nonetheless, the riders pay fares and taxes and the general public pays taxes. Fair enough ...they should and they do. Now what about the other beneficiaries? In economic terms--the labor markets and the land owners who rent to them ...if they don't contribute..then we're charging the product(labor) to get itself to market! Nice trick and that's what has been happening and that's what's holding transit hostage to regional "taxing politics". The charges should be allocated to all those to whom the benefits accrue. Downtown Chicago is transit dependent and highly supplied. Want to get people out of their cars? Invest in all the work trips that aren't supplied by transit--the majority of work trips in the region and then, allocate the infrastructure costs to all who benefit. See? No slashing!