Thursday, July 19, 2007

Transit woes


As the clock ticks toward a possible government shutdown, Sen. Martin Sandoval said Thursday he wouldn’t support a state budget that lacks funding for education and transportation.

“Once again, there needs to be a recognition there is a crisis in Illinois and that service cuts will happen 60 days from today as a result of our inability to fund this priority,” he said during a Statehouse press conference Thursday morning. “I, from my own perspective, will not vote, and cannot, in right conscience, vote on any budget compromise that does not include money for the RTA, CTA, PACE and Metra.”

He joined legislators from both chambers to talk about ways to avoid service reductions in transportation services scheduled to take place in northeastern Illinois as early as September 17.

The CTA plans to eliminate 63 bus routes and two rail lines. Fares also would rise from $2 to $4.25 during rush hour, and workers would be laid off. PACE plans to cut all weekend bus services, all Metra station routes and 23 regional routes for the entire suburban Chicago area. It also would raise fares by 33 percent and reduce transportation for the disabled to the federally-mandated standards.

Rep. Julie Hamos, an Evanston Democrat, said legislators are in the final stages of drafting legislation that would generate additional funding for transit. “The transit system has not been fully supported by the state budget in 24 years,” she said. “This is no time now to take on the responsibility for transit as part of our state budget. What the system does not need is a one-year bailout that would put us back in not only the same place next year, but in an even worse condition.”

Lawmakers propose a regional tax increase and a full range of reforms that would address transit spending and pension system accountability.

So far, legislators have two funding components on the table that include a one-quarter percent sales tax increase for the six counties in northeastern Illinois and a real estate transfer tax in Chicago. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has repeated his campaign promise that he wouldn’t approve any legislation to raise state income or sales taxes. Therefore, if the measure wins the approval of both chambers, lawmakers could override his veto.

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