Saturday, October 13, 2007

Biting The Hand That Feeds You--Republican Sues RTA

The RTA long has been viewed by many as a Republican/suburban preserve. It was foisted on the City of Chicago early in the Harold Washington administration, when the City was divided (and weakened) politically and the CTA was desperate for cash.

The provisions of the RTA Act were stacked in favor of the collar counties and remain so to this day. Three examples. First, RTA Board seats are allocated based on population rather than transit ridership or financial contribution to the system. This approach guarantees collar county representation in excess of their contribution to and consumption of transit. It created no incentive for the collar counties to either adopt land-use policies that would generate transit use more than their default model of transit-hostile sprawl or increase their financial support for the region's transit system.

Second, the RTA sales tax rate in the collar counties was and is only one-quarter the rate in Cook County. Third, the seats on the Metra Board are allocated based on morning boardings, which of course means that the suburban counties control the commuter rail system that is of vital importance to the City of Chicago.

For years, the primary goal of the RTA administrations appeared to be to protect and expand the Metra system. The sales tax funding formula delivered more operating subsidies to Metra than Metra was able to spend, so Metra was able to convert millions of dollars of operating subsidies each year into capital expenditures. The RTA also allocated a disproportionate share of capital dollars to Metra, which has resulted in the CTA system infrastructure being in much worst shape than the Metra system. The CTA also faced a structural funding deficit on the operating side because its sales tax base was not keeping up with inflation. For years, the RTA resisted all efforts to revisit the funding formula, protecting Metra's privileged status.

If critics are to be believed, the RTA itself even was a source of patronage jobs, consulting contracts and RTA Board seats for State and DuPage County Republican allies. It certainly is indicative of the RTA's commitment to public transit that one of its long-standing Board members was a prominent opponent of the formation of the RTA and presumably of the ideals of regional transit.

That was then. Now we have the odd specter of Andy Martin, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senator in 2008, suing the RTA because it accepted the short-term bailout offered by the Governor to stave off transit doomsday until November 4th.

The pro se lawsuit is Martin v. Blagojevich, et al., 2007 MR 001310 (DuPage Cty.). It was filed on September 14, 2007. (Copy sent upon request.)

The bare bones complaint alleges that the Governor engineered the advance of funds "to satisfy the CTA's need for cash," neglecting to mention that Pace especially also has relied on these advanced funds to stave off its doomsday for its suburban riders. The gist of the complaint is as follows:

The governing statute mandates that the RTA operate in a "reasonable and prudent manner." The borrowing of money form [sic] 2007, [sic] to fund deficits in 2007, without nay [sic] assurance of repayment is irrational, illogical and contrary to any concept of reason and prudence, and therefore violative of the governing statute and the Illinois Constitution.

This lawsuit is unlikely to gain any traction, even in the favorable confines of the DuPage County court system. (Readers, please email me any subsequent filings so I can avoid a repeat trek to Wheaton.) Nor does the lawsuit appear to have had much of an impact so far on the court of public opinion.

There is, however, something strangely fascinating, even satisfying, about seeing a Republican sue the RTA. It is like a real life demonstration of biting the hand that feeds you!


Anonymous said...

Andy Martin, formerly known as Anthony Martin Trigona, is not known for his stability, and has been frequently censured by the Seventh Circuit for bringing frivious lawsuits. Try these searches: + trigona
"Andy Martin" + "Anthony Martin Trigona".

Moderator said...

This lawsuit will burnish his reputation in this regard.

Anonymous said...

Notwithstanding that, Moderator you missed the boat (or the bus) on several levels on this one.

Anonymous said...

Moderator, I generally agree with your post, but I have to point out out a small issue that maybe you have some thoughts on: You say, "The RTA also allocated a disproportionate share of capital dollars to Metra, which has resulted in the CTA system infrastructure being in much worst shape than the Metra system."

True, but I NEVER heard CTA officials, private or public complain about that. Any ideas as to why?

Moderator said...

Anonymous 10/14 2:34 p.m.--

Please elaborate on how I missed the boat/bus on several levels with this post.

Moderator said...

Anonymous 10/14 4:01 p.m.--

I suspect that for years the CTA had to contend with a Republican-controlled state government. Had the CTA complained too much about the split of capital dollars it might have gotten an even smaller share of those dollars when capital programs like Illinois First came down the pike.

With the shift to a state government controlled by the Democrats, the CTA hopped on board the Moving Beyond Congestion train, where raising such questions was (and is) verboten.

You might look back at some early posts in this blog looking at the capital program scenarios that are part of the Moving Beyond Congestion project. Those scenarios heavily favor transit system expansion in the suburban areas despite a cost/benefit ratio of just about 1:1.

SB 572 does not address capital funding or the split of such funding among the service boards. Neither does any other bill to my knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Alright, here are a few:
1. Martin has about as much to do with the Republican Party as Lar "American First" Daley had to do with the Richard J. Daley Administration. Nothing. He is just another "political gadfly" and abuser of the courts, from whom various federal clerks have been instructed not to accept complaints except by leave of the court. Not much different than Sherman Skolnick except that Skolnick did find two corrupt judges (not that hard to do in this state). Alan Keyes probably has more connections to the Illinois Republican Party than Martin does.

2. I doubt, and the burden of proof is on you, who made the assertion, that the RTA is a Republican organization. As frequently noted here, it takes a supermajority to appoint a chairman, and who blocked that until Reilly was selected? Daley, (Richard M., not Lar). Why, until 2008, when the RTA was put under a statutory obligation to fund paratransit, did most of the discretionary money go to the CTA, if the RTA was a Republican organization?

3. Even if the RTA is a Republican (or even combine) organization, the one real Edgar Republican there, Judy Barr Topinka, voted against the bailout, leading the Governor to say "What was she thinking?" (If you remember, that was his political commercial tagline.) Was she voting against her interest, too?

Maybe you, and other posters here, should do some fact checking. While anyone is entitled to opinions, some here have been based on the incorrect premises that the CTA budget deficit was going to be $250 million or $350 million for 2008, when the proposed budget actually released says $158 million (not good, but not as out of line as those numbers), incorrect testimony is given by the MPC, and someone makes two false statements about tollway financing. I should not have the burden of correcting you, nor should you have the burden of correcting them.

Anonymous said...

Maybe SB572 doesn't address most capital issues, because:
1. The Republicans are holding it up until a capital bill, which does address capital, passes.
2. Most of the capital comes from the federal government, and the question is state matching funds. 49 U.S.C. sec. 5307 establishes the allocation of federal formula capital money (throw in New Start legislation, and other federal statutes, with regard to other federal funds).

Finally, SB572 does have a $1B bonding power for Metra. You previously criticized that, saying it was for Johnsburg.

Again, get you facts straight.

Anonymous said...

While I responded to the Moderator's request to elaborate, he has failed to respond or bolster his argument. Thus, I believe that this post may be disregarded.

Moderator said...

Anonymous 6:56 a.m.--

Not so fast Bub.

1. Andy Martin presents himself as a Republican, which inspired the blog piece. It wasn't my purpose to decide who is a "true" Republican and who is a "gadfly." If a Lars Daley type presenting him/herself as a Democrat sues say CDOT then that might also be grist for this blog mill.

2. Pick any year and I bet you find more Republicans than Democrats on the RTA Board. For much of the last 25 years I believe the RTA Chairman has been a Republican. The City, with 70-80 percent of the ridership, had just 5 of 13 seats on the RTA Board, barely enough to block supermajority action but not enough to do anything else. The City had but 1 of 7 seats on the Metra Board.

The RTA could use its discretionary operating funds to prop up the CTA because for years Metra's statutory allocation of sales tax dollars more than covered Metra's operating expenses. Now that Metra's financial position is not so rich the RTA comes up with the Moving Beyond Congestion initiative after years of resisting efforts to address transit funding in Springfield in any systematic way.

The RTA decision not to shower Pace with large amounts of discretionary operating funding may cut against my theory that the RTA was a Republican-dominated organization. Perhaps suburbanites were embarrassed at the empty buses and didn't view the Pace ridership base as deserving of the kind of support given to Metra.

3. I think Judy Baar Topinka's vote against the most recent bailout was based on her personal conviction that the bailout was wrong and her desire to get back at her political opponent (the Governor). It was refreshing to see some dissent on the RTA Board. Let's see if she is as diligent if the RTA tries to pull another stunt like a plug number in its budget to cover a large operating deficit.

4. The deficit figures for the CTA jump around depending on whether the pension/labor agreement is factored in. In addition, over time ridership trends, service cuts, administrative cost reductions and the like cause the number to change.

At least the direction in the deficit numbers is positive. One wonders what the projected deficit for 2008 would be if the CTA had implemented its "doomsday" scenario at the beginning of 2007 and had a full year to cut costs.

I can't speak for MPC's statements to the House Mass Transit Committee.

Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

"Andy Martin presents himself as a Republican, which inspired the blog piece. It wasn't my purpose to decide who is a "true" Republican and who is a "gadfly." If a Lars Daley type presenting him/herself as a Democrat sues say CDOT then that might also be grist for this blog mill."

Maybe so, but that defeats the title of this piece, which was "Biting The Hand That Feeds You--Republican Sues RTA." Unless all Republicans are being fed by the RTA, what someone who is not fed by the RTA does is irrelevant to that premise.

"Perhaps suburbanites were embarrassed at the empty buses and didn't view the Pace ridership base as deserving of the kind of support given to Metra." Perhaps the CTA was also continually crying that the "formula was unfair."