The Proposal endorses Representative Hamos' so-called RTA reform bill (HB 1841) but indicates that the bill does not go far enough. Most notably, the Proposal recommends that the RTA should be empowered "to promote transit-oriented land development throughout the region as a means to enhance transit ridership and to accommodate population growth without depending solely on highway construction." These words no doubt will send a tremor of alarm throughout the suburban region, where mayors, village councils and developers continue to work together to enable auto-centric sprawl while loudly complaining that their towns don't get enough public transit service.
The Proposal has several other recommendations that go beyond the Hamos bill. These include authorizing the RTA to enter into agreements with local governments to "undertake and fund transit-related plans, programs or projects that support the RTA's goals and objectives." In addition, the RTA will be required "to allocate federal transit formula fund for capital projects based on clear criteria consistent with RTA goals, polices and performance." Another recommendation is that the RTA be required to give prior approval to any federal transit capital grant application in the RTA region.
The Proposal starts from the premise that the RTA region must "face the reality that if we are to build and maintain the type of transit system our region need, we [i.e., the RTA region] will have to raise most of the $2.4 billion needed yearly ourselves." It proposes the following:
Operating Revenue (new money)
- RTA region: $320 million
- State: $80 million
Capital Funding (new money)
- RTA Region: $700 million
- State: $700 million
Proposed Funding Sources
- An RTA imposed gas tax of up to 5 percent (up to $325 million). Policy basis for gas tax is that motorists are the beneficiaries of the public transit system and should be "directly involved" in paying for the system.
- Increase the RTA sales tax in the City to 1.25% ($85 million) and up to 1.0% in the collar counties ($345 million).
- Adopt distance-based, time of day, and other such pricing measures ($90 million through a 10 percent increase in fare revenue).
- Find the holy grail of an integrated electronic fare system ($36 million).
- Broaden the RTA sales tax to include consumer services ($200 million and presumably more if sales tax rates are increased in Chicago and collar counties).
- Tax on non-residential off-street parking (up to $300 million).
- Fix the "structure and financing" of the CTA's pension system (go figure).
Some quick observations:
1. It likely will be a tough sell to increase the collar county sales tax rate more than an increase in the Chicago sales tax rate.
2. How does this proposal square with the Governor's pledge not to raise taxes on the working people of Illinois? Does the RTA region seek a legislative declaration that its population is composed of layabouts, a measure that would likely attract plenty of downstate votes? Perhaps a requirement that any transit funding increase be approved through a referendum would finesse this issue. Maybe it is enough that any increase would be imposed by the RTA and not the State of Illinois itself.
3. The proposal makes no mention of how to deal with the dysfunctional labor relations situation at the CTA, which holds up resolution of the pension funding problem and prevents the CTA from subcontracting work and taking other cost-effective measures.
4. It is surprising that Proposal fails to advocate for congestion zone pricing, such as exists in London and is proposed for New York. Congestion zone pricing targets auto travel in areas most heavily served by public transit so the linkage between the "tax" and the benefits of a transit system is much stronger than a generalized gas tax. Why should the working stiff in Will County with a 40 mile commute to the northern suburbs and no transit options pay far more than the Chicago resident who chooses to drive to the Loop or the airports.
5. The proposed parking tax dovetails with yesterday's Tribune article on the growing movement against free parking. It will be a tough sell to tax a big box retailer in the suburbs whose store is served by little or no public transit at the same rate as retailers in more densely populated areas well served by public transit. Perhaps the region should consider a base parking tax that funds local transportation improvements and a congestion surcharge devoted to public transit that is based on the congestion levels in the area.
More on this and the transit governance recommendations tomorrow.
Anyone want to speculate on whether this proposal has been reviewed and approved by Representative Hamos?