Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scotty, Bean Kirk Back To D.C.

U.S. Representatives Mark Kirk and Melissa Bean rolled their Suburban Transportation Commission into Chicago recently. The tone of the meeting can be discerned from Representative Kirk's press release, entitled "Kirk: A Suburban Tax Increase Should Not Be Used to Bail Out the CTA."

The Daily Herald's article reported: "Federal lawmakers from the suburbs railed against the Chicago Transit Authority Monday, while also calling on the governor to find cash to expand Metra."

According to Kirk's numbers, the collar counties will contribute $130 million (32.5%) of the new regional sales tax money dedicated to transit. Together Metra and Pace would receive 43.6% of this new money, which is more than double their share of transit riders and more than their current share of operating subsidies.

The RTA sales tax rate dedicated to transit in the suburbs after the increase (0.50%) will remain less than half the tax rate in Cook County (1.25%). (Under SB 572 the collar counties would pay an additional 0.25% that they could use for highway or transit purposes.) This despite the fact that transit trips in the collar counties soak up far more public subsidies on average than transit trips in the urban core of this region.

In his press release Representative Kirk harped away at the CTA pension problems:

Under proposed legislation, the State of Illinois would increase taxes on collar county families,” Congressman Kirk said. “Half the suburban revenue would go to the RTA and half would return to each county. Of the $400 million in new suburban tax revenue going to the RTA, 60 percent would be spent on the CTA’s pension deficit. The plan would provide no funds for Metra’s STAR line – leaving federal funding unclaimed – while bailing out the CTA’s pension fund.

Of course, a somewhat charitable view of the CTA's pension problems is that the CTA raided its pension funding as a last ditch effort to provide the most cost-effective service on a per trip basis in the region to the most disadvantaged people of this region during a period when its share of operating and capital funding was kept well below its trip share by the RTA.

I'm sure outraged by the facts marshaled by Representative Kirk, but perhaps not in the way the Suburban Transportation Commission intended.

The Commission also made much of the Auditor General's report to beat up on the CTA: "Congressman Kirk and the Commission also questioned CTA President Ron Huberman regarding the implementation of Auditor General recommendations to address wasteful spending practices and boost system efficiency."

Yet, in strongly advocating that the State match federal funding set aside for the STAR Line the Commission ignored the Auditor General's recommendations that the RTA and the service boards should concentrate on restoring and upgrading the current system before undertaking major new system expansions like the STAR Line.

Maybe we need someone to set up an Urban Transportation Commission and hold hearings in the collar counties to beat up Metra and Pace for focusing on new and expensive capital projects like the STAR Line when they lack the resources to maintain their existing systems. When Representative Emanuel gets done filleting V.P. Cheney maybe he can start asking some hard questions of suburban officials about (1) just how many rides per million of capital dollars will the STAR line generate, (2) how much it will cost to operate the STAR line, and (3) why proponents of the STAR Line are so willing to ignore the Auditor General's recommendations to shelve system expansion projects until the current system is back in order?


Anonymous said...

Amen Brother-- now pass the ammunition.

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for Carole Brown to post on her blog CTA's step by step plan to meet the Auditor General's points. As long as CTA stands by her position that "I am delighted to report that Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland has concluded his audits of RTA, Pace, Metra, and CTA. Finally, we have independent verification of what we have been saying all along." without mentioning what CTA intends to do to deal with the problems identified in the report, including overlapping service with other providers, lack of regional fares and coordination, seeking extensions when CTA is overwhelmed by the need to put the existing plant into a state of good repair, inability to settle on a satisfactory labor contract without lengthy arbitration resulting in a decision to which CTA dissents with no legal effect, building an extravagant office with federal funds, which has an unrented vacant floor, rampant absenteeism that costs at least 25% of the deficit, and a myriad of other problems, Kirk and Beam are right, the additional suburban money to be used to bail out CTA will be wasted. (That's not to say that Metra and Pace also won't use additional money inefficiently). Huberman announced his $12 million in cuts (mostly unfilled positions), but he also has not described a plan for addressing these issues.

What I might disagree with the Congresspeople is that maybe some of the federal funds should be left on the table, such as for the Ogden-Carroll Trolley, a boondoggle proposed by Lipinski the First. In Beam's district, there is a proposal for transit signal priority on Rand Road, a street with no bus service.

Anonymous said...

Why does Illinois have dozens of piddly little public-sector pension programs, when other states manage to make due with one?

You don't hear about BART or Muni raiding Calpers to make ends meet.

Anonymous said...

8:58: Good question, although the State of Illinois also has massive deficits in the pension funds to which it is supposed to make contributions (despite a constitutional guaranty of the obligation).