Do we think Representative Hamos is going to get her wish of a transit bill before 2007 ends or is she getting a lump of coal in her stocking this holiday season?
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DECEMBER TRANSIT UPDATE
The General Assembly and Governor still have not resolved the upcoming transit funding crisis, and the clock is again ticking toward a doomsday scenario that is likely to be worse in 2008 than this year.
On November 28, we were called into special session by the Governor to consider transit funding. During the previous week both Republican Leader Cross and Governor Blagojevich had endorsed a different funding mechanism for transit than the funding that had been contained in my comprehensive bill, SB 572.
The transit funding in the Cross-Blagojevich plan was incorporated in House Amendment #2 to SB 307, and called for a vote. This funding would be a diversion of the gasoline sales tax collected in our region – about $385 million (combined with ADA paratransit funding from the state for a $440 million total). In addition, downstate transit would receive a higher reimbursement rate.
In this approach the combined $440 million for regional transit would be paid directly from the state budget. That's because gasoline sales taxes currently are deposited into the state treasury and used for state needs. Legislators expressed concern that there was no replacement for the lost revenues, and defeated the bill by a vote of 57-53-4 (71 votes were needed). Although Republican Leader Cross had proposed the plan, only 3 Republicans voted for it!
I sponsored House Amendment #2 to SB 307 as an act of compromise. It had not been my idea to shift responsibility for regional transit to the state budget, but I agreed to a new funding source in order to put an end to the months of anxiety the legislative infighting had placed on transit riders and workers. In fact, SB 572 that I have sponsored all spring, summer and fall would be a regional solution to a regional need -- with a modest increase in the regional sales tax along with a Chicago-based real estate transfer tax. This would produce $530 million of new revenues for transit operations, as well as to pay for the CTA pension reform plan.
Here's the real story. Throughout the excruciating debate on the House floor it became quite clear that the real issue is not with the funding. The House Republicans continue to hold transit hostage to another agenda: a capital infrastructure program that would also fund roads, bridges and school construction throughout the state. The leaders are discussing an expansion in casinos to pay for that. Since transit also needs capital dollars for new buses, rail and station improvements, I support a capital bill – although transit funding is a real emergency and should be resolved immediately.
Once again the clock truly is ticking toward doomsday. The RTA must adopt an austere budget on December 14th – over $400 million in budget deficits will have to be made up with fare hikes and massive service reductions. The one-time loan by the Governor last September has reduced next year's revenues even further. The pension and retiree healthcare reforms negotiated with the unions expire on December 31st. Over 2,000 CTA workers have been given layoff notices, just before the holidays.
I've come to the conclusion that the leaders and the Governor should be pressed to finalize details on the capital bill. Once that happens, our version of a comprehensive transit bill will be passed. Please write or call the legislative leaders and the Governor to tell them that we must take action now!
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Julie Hamos State Representative,