Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=3641
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 6:02:39 PM CST
Hoping to avoid service cuts and fare increases, the RTA Thursday approved a budget plan that calls on the state to provide $2 billion in new funds to be spread out over the next five years.
The plan, titled "Moving Beyond Congestion," attempts to utilize several sources to fund transit, including private investments, fare revenues and federal funding. The large financial commitment needed from the Illinois government, though, had some state senators doubtful that the RTA's request would pass.
"If you don't have good roads, if you don't have good rail, you don't have good business," said Illinois Senator Larry K. Bomke (R-Springfield), minority spokesman of the state Transportation Committee. "[However], I think it would be very difficult to pass [this request]. The state is in a devastating situation as far as funding is concerned."
A spokesman for Senator Michael Bond, who represents a district north of Chicago, added that the Senate has been working on a capital bill that hopes to allocate extra funding to the RTA. "We want to see how that lines up" before worrying about covering any additional RTA needs, he said.
"Moving Beyond Congestion" is an ambitious plan that requires $16 billion in funding altogether over the next five years. The RTA is counting on $6 billion from leveraging already secured funds, meaning they will need to gather the remaining $10 billion from new sources. With that money, the RTA plans to perform basic maintenance, enhance the lines already in place, and expand service into suburban areas and collar counties.
If the Illinois General Assembly passes the RTA's request, it would most likely need to seek new sources of revenue to fulfill the RTA's needs. The costs of "Moving Beyond Congestion" could be passed on to Illinois residents through higher taxes.
Response from area residents to the RTA plan was mixed. Some said they would be willing to pay a slight increase in taxes if it would actually result in service improvements.
"I would pay for the CTA to bring more to my area, like more trains running on time and more express buses," said Jeanette King, 20, who lives in Englewood.
Others feel that the RTA is not doing enough with the money they currently receive from taxpayers.
"I don't see why the CTA thinks they can increase prices on customers when we don't see the improvements that they're supposed to be making," said Victoria Cazares, 18, who commutes into the city from Evergreen Park.
The RTA is divided up into three service boards: the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace. For 2007, the RTA approved a budget that contained a $226 million deficit spread among the three boards. "Moving Beyond Congestion" anticipates further needs by requesting the larger sum of $400 million each year.
Chicago Transit Board Chairwoman Carole Brown expressed concern that the CTA's financial need for maintenance and improvements, which she said has been stated publicly as $5.8 billion, would not be fully met under the "Moving Beyond Congestion" plan. RTA Chairman Jim Reilly responded by saying that the plan was intended to move the RTA into a "state of good repair", but that it was necessary to evaluate the need of each board with a "reality test".
"Certainly the service boards could usefully spend more," Reilly said.
Regardless, all three boards agreed that a significant increase in funding was necessary to continue to service the Chicago area effectively. Metra Chairwoman Carole Doris compared an RTA financial boost with regular car maintenance, saying that without it the system would languish.
“It’s like not putting oil in your SUV,” she said, “and then wondering why it winds up in the garage."