Sunday, November 4, 2007

Smart One: Doomsday Averted Once Again

Just as the first doomsday was set to arrive for the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace, transit apocalypse was averted when the State of Illinois and the federal government found a way to free up $27 million to keep Pace and the CTA afloat at current service/fare levels until at least the end of the year. From published reports (e.g., here), I hesitate to attempt to describe how the solution works. It appears that the FTA authorized the use of $27 million of federal capital funds for transit operating purposes. The State agreed to step up with $27 million of its capital dollars to fill the resulting hole. Essentially, this solution exploits the more liberal rules governing the use of federal capital funds for transit operations compared to State rules on the use of capital funds, a neat bit of arbitrage.

This last minute fix has all the earmarks of some smart person being creative and thinking outside of the proverbial box. It was a solution no one had discussed and "seemed to appear out of nowhere." Despite plenty of fulminating (here and here) about how the RTA no longer should accept short-term funding bailouts, the RTA and the service boards wasted no time in embracing this solution once the federal government gave the green light.

Who can we thank for this creative solution? Let's hope they get a raise and the opportunity to use that creativity on the many other challenges facing the Chicago area transit system even if a long-term operating and capital funding solution is enacted over the next few months. Of course, using capital dollars to fund operations is like eating your seed corn and is not sustainable in the long term. Nonetheless, the simple elegance of this latest short-term fix should be recognized.


Anonymous said...

All this does, as just reported on WGN-TV, is make the CTA talk of doomsday cuts not credible. After two "creative band aids," the talk is to expect another one about January 3, 2008.

Maybe the legislature could use equal creativity in fixing the underlying problems. No evidence of that yet, however.

Anonymous said...

The panel on Chicago Tonight, including Lawrence Msall, didn't think that this was such a clever solution. Including taking $27 million from some other projects, this enabled further delay, requiring several more months of contributing $11 million to the pension plan, wasting $2 million on planning for the last Doomsday, etc.