Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Metropolis 2020 Proposal: RTA Governance

The recently released Metropolis 2020 Proposal has some interesting suggestions for changing the governance structure of the RTA and the service boards. There are three recommendations that apply generally:
  • The RTA Board would select a voting member for each of the boards of the service boards.
  • The Chairmen of all three service boards should become non-voting RTA directors.
  • Representatives from each service board should serve as non-voting members on the boards of the other service boards (e.g., Pace representatives sit on the CTA and Metra boards).
The Proposal recommends eliminating the one man/one vote requirement for the allocation of RTA board seats among the three areas that make up the RTA region--Chicago, suburban Cook County, and the collar counties--now found in section 3.01(h) of the RTA Act. The Proposal recommends the following changes to the current 13-member RTA Board:
  • City: The Mayor of Chicago will get two new appointments to the RTA Board but the CTA Chairman will become a non-voting member. (Net gain of one seat, from 5 to 6 appointments).
  • Suburban Cook County: No change--4 seats
  • Counties: Each county board chairman would get to appoint an RTA Board member (Gain of two seats, from three to five seats, for the collar counties. Gain of one seat for Cook County as a whole)
  • Governor: One appointment, up from zero.
These changes would increase the size of the RTA Board from 13 to 18 voting members, including the Chairman, who presumably would continue to be selected by the other RTA Board members.

The RTA Act currently imposes a nine-vote supermajority requirement for major RTA decisions, such as the selection of the Chairman, approval of the service board operating budgets and adoption of the RTA's capital program. The current supermajority requirement gives the four Chicago appointees plus the CTA Chairman veto power over these major RTA decisions. (That veto power will be lost if the RTA Board seats are reallocated among the City of Chicago, suburban Cook County and the collar counties based on the 2000 Census, as was required to have been done by July 2003 under the current RTA Act.)

The Proposal does not address whether the expanded RTA Board would have a supermajority requirement for certain important decisions and, if so, what that requirement would be. The current supermajority requirement is at 69.2% (i.e., 9/13). If we apply this percentage to the proposed 18 RTA Board members, the supermajority requirement would be calculated as follows:

18 board members x .692 = 12.456 members

If this is rounded down to 12 RTA Board members, then no geographically-based voting bloc would have veto power by itself. The City is likely to put strong pressure on the General Assembly to round up to a 13 vote supermajority requirement if this proposal sees the light of legislative day. This would allow the City to retain its current veto power.

The General Assembly should resist this pressure and set a supermajority requirement that is low enough so that no area has veto power but still high enough to ensure that a solid majority of the RTA Board is in favor of the measure. A 12-vote supermajority satisfies both conditions. If no area has veto power then the representatives from each area must build relationships and coalitions with representatives from other areas. That is generally a healthy thing on a public board with responsibilities of a region-wide nature.


Anonymous said...

Would you also change the operating and capital funding formula to ensure that every part of the region (and every service board) has a strong incentive to seek regional consensus? (i.e., "skin in the game"?) That doesn't exist now.

Moderator said...


Please elaborate.

Here's the link to my proposal, which arguably appeals to baser instincts than regional cooperation:

Elaborating said...

OK, you can't just deal with board membership in a vacuum from money unless you take all of the strings away from the money. As I understand it, the current system was set up and continues to be set up so CTA needs basically all of the "discretionary" money to avoid service cuts. So if the ideal "regional consensus" fails one year in a budget standoff (sound like Springfield in June?), the formula money to metra, pace, and cta continues to flow and just the discretionary money stops. So think about the incentives for regional cooperation to avoid a deadlock -- commuter rail (admittedly my most frequent mode) continues to run as if nothing happens. Suburban bus service (with all of 6% of the region's transit) takes a haircut. And CTA basically shuts down as the "discretionary" spigot shuts off. I fail to see how having only part of the region interested in "regional consensus" promotes anything close to true regional cooperation. It's a holdup, plain and simple, and -- to be honest, I think the current system is just flat out racist to make CTA look like a chattel state dependent on the noblesse oblige of the ruling white suburbanites. It's offensive, and I don't think it's a coincidence that this happened right after Harold Washington was elected.

Anonymous said...

The Metropolis proposal seems to be just rearranging pieces on the board. It's not offering any real bold ideas, just interim concessions. It's a bad place to begin negotiations with the ruling parochial forces of the state.

Anonymous said...

Proposals like the one in the main post seem kind of late in the legislative season to include them in some sort of fix effective July 1, 2007.
As for "elaborating," there seems to be a common myth on the Internet (including a guy named "Truth" on CTA Tattler) that because the RTA Act was amended in 1983, and Harold Washington was the Mayor then, it must have been racist. When I researched it the last time around, it appears that the real cause was that the RTA had exhausted its tax base by 1981, forcing CTA to double its fares, the then private suburban bus companies to cease service, and the Burlington Northern to sue for a fare increase. [At that time, suburban bus service didn't take a "haircut," it was eliminated, in some areas, for several years.] Apparently Jane Byrne took the view (not unlike Daley's until a couple of weeks ago) that it was the Legislature's problem, not hers, while Washington was willing to compromise to get a solution.
Also, the fallacy in elaborating's position is assuming that the formula is adequate for Pace. Why did Pace have to sue several years ago to get its budget approved, used capital for operating for 3 or 4 years now, and now is the one underwriting "Moving Beyond Congestion" advertising, if it is adequatly funded under the formula? As it is, CTA receives 100% of the sales tax collected in Chicago, and, when discretionary funds are included, about 40% of the sales tax collected in suburban Cook County, compared to 12.75% for Pace. One of the reasons why I object to HB 1841 is that it establishes "'Regional Transit Innovations Fund', using each year up to 15% of any State-authorized or appropriated capital or operating funds received by the Authority," which may be distributed in a discretionary manner. My response was: "I question giving the RTA discretionary money, considering that existing discretionary funds have generally gone to the CTA, with some CTA supporters claiming that this proves that the CTA was never properly funded." Elaborating is one of those.

Moderator said...

Maybe Elaborating and Jackonthebus are both right.

1. Chicago's political power was at its nadir in 1983 and Harold Washington was forced to do the best he could with a poor hand. Was it racist that the CTA was forced to rely on discretionary funding from the very beginning? Certainly that was part of the mix. But the failure to fully fund the CTA also gave the General Assembly and the RTA a measure of control over an agency that it perhaps rightfully perceived to be poorly managed and with a voracious appetite for State money.

2. Pace's financial position is also precarious. Its difficulty in meeting the farebox recovery ratio established by RTA limits its ability to soak up more discretionary operating money.

Pace's farebox recovery ratio is already significantly lower than that of the CTA and Metra. Do we want to lower its ratio even more, providing more ammunition/evidence to those who argue that transit funding in this region is skewed in favor of prosperous white people?

3. Metra has been the big winner under the RTA and a succession of RTA boards. It carries the big shots to and from the Loop and it provides service to the entire RTA region. It thus is understandable that it was and is the favored service board.