Friday, September 14, 2007

Mass transit riders saved for now

The Regional Transportation Authority accepted Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s offer to advance all of the agency’s 2008 funding as a way to prolong massive layoffs and service cuts for seven more weeks. Two of the 10 board members, including former treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, voted no.

The $78 million covers suburban transit services for the disabled and the Chicago Transit Authority’s fare subsidy, but relief is only temporary. The governor offered the advanced payment so state lawmakers would have more time to come up with a long-term solution.

We wrote about the House’s failed attempt to approve legislation September 4. Even if the House had approved the mass transit reform bill, the governor would reject it because it includes a regional sales tax increase. “[The governor] thinks we can address the long-term needs of the RTA, as well as mass transit agencies all over the state, without raising the sales tax,” said Abby Ottenhoff, Blagojevich’s spokeswoman. “As he describes it, it really ends up being a back door fare hike on people who rely on mass transit.”

She added, “He’s committed to coming up with a long-term solution, working with legislators and working with the transit agencies starting Monday in Springfield when the Senate is back in town.”

The Senate is scheduled to come back Monday and could discuss mass transit, but a) the pressure is off for the General Assembly to act now when veto session is scheduled to start October 2, and b) the governor’s veto hangs over the existing mass transit bill. That means a capital bill is the only significant option for a long-term solution. And a capital bill still relies on a compromise on how much to expand gaming, a contentious issue between the four legislative caucuses. In other words, mass transit riders will be on a roller coaster right up to the next doomsday.

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