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Faux populism

Friday, Oct 30, 2009

* The Tribune editorial board makes a good point today

Just when it looks like lawmakers have mustered up the courage to end the gratuitous free-rides-for-seniors program, Gov. Pat Quinn has thrown a monkey wrench into the works.

With a bill meant to ease the transit systems’ financial woes moving in the General Assembly, Quinn called Thursday for a moratorium on fare hikes in return for its passage. Besides rescinding ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s gratuitous senior freebie program, the bill would allow the Regional Transportation Authority to borrow up to $400 million to cover operating costs for the area’s bus and rail systems.

You read that right: The governor is OK with letting the RTA borrow up to $400 million for day-to-day expenses, but he wants no part of any plan to balance the budget by requiring people to pay a fair share of their rides.

Wait’ll they hear the rest of the story. Oof.

The proposed fare hikes are steep - $3 L rides, up from $2.25, for instance. But riders ought to help shoulder the burden. So should Mayor Daley, for that matter, and everyone else, as long as we’re passing along responsibilities.

Quinn’s idea for a two-year fare freeze is bad public policy because it’s an unfunded mandate. We’ll give you some borrowing authority to get you through this mess, but we won’t fix the now-broken “fix” that we did last year and, oh, you can’t raise fares for two years even if revenues crash even more.

The danger here is that Quinn is setting the stage for far deeper service and job cuts. Mass transit is a hugely valuable asset and Quinn is willing to allow it to further deteriorate because he doesn’t want to wear the jacket for a fare hike.

Almost nobody ever demands that expressways and city streets always operate in the black. That’s just a silly notion to most people. Yet, public transportation constantly has to face down a stupid double standard. They’re supposed to make money, or at least come close to breaking even. And when they don’t, they get chopped. Foolish.

Either provide a real funding solution or allow mass transit to at least cover some of their losses themselves. This faux populism is plain goofy. A real populist would make sure that people could take the bus and train to work.

* Other Statehouse news…

* Quote of the Day: “Stick it to granny and poor little uncle Willy. I refuse to screw the senior citizens of the state of Illinois.”

* Bill to cut seniors’ free transit rides stalls

* Free bus rides for all seniors could end

* Lawmakers reconsider free rides for seniors

* Stroger tax could be easier to undo

* Change in Cook County Veto Rules Sent to Governor

* Senate moves to lower threshold for Stroger override

* Illinois legislature: Tax-minded lawmakers vote to undercut Cook County chief’s veto power

* New `STAR bonds’ plan would target entertainment, pay neighbors

* House OKs tougher cemetery oversight

* Governor gets bill to require prison time for gang members with guns

* Senate gives Quinn green light to pick leaders for key state agencies

- Posted by Rich Miller        


21 Comments
  1. - Stallion - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 10:38 am:

    Lil O’ Ricky, he is a class act. If he only started thinkeh he could be another Lincoln, if he only had a brain !!!


  2. - The Doc - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 10:45 am:

    This is yet another example of why Quinn doesn’t appear to be ready for prime time. The irony is that his threat captures the essence of Blago on the very same issue that was seen by virtually all as a transparent attempt to pander to a core constituency.

    Painting the mass transit systems into a corner isn’t helpful to anyone, governor. Sign the bill and move on, please.


  3. - phocion - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 10:49 am:

    ==Almost nobody ever demands that expressways and city streets always operate in the black. That’s just a silly notion to most people.==

    Actually, Rich, expressways and city streets are paid for through user fees - namely the gas tax, and to some extent driver’s license and registration fees. Those who use roads pay for them directly (the additional revenues coming in to pay for the capital plan also pays for things like parks and libraries).

    I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a subsidy for public transit. After all, it reduces congestion and minimizes the need for more expressways and roads. But let’s stick with the facts. Roads, bridges, and highways are funded by the people who use them.


  4. - Will County Woman - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 10:49 am:

    This is why Quinn is not good for the governor’s office.

    I understand that he means well, but…

    He thinks with his heart. Hence his heart is ours he says. But, governing requires a governor to think with his head more than his heart, make tough decisions in the state’s interest (not just his political interests), stick to them, be disciplined and firm, and say no to excess often.

    If it’s not okay for Metra or CTA to raise fares to generate needed revenue, does Quinn really want to raise taxes 50 percent to generate revenue for the state?

    I want to be consistent here… if it’s okay to raise taxes or raise fares, all I ask as a taxpayer or consumer is that it comes after serious cuts have been made and bloat/waste has been eradicated or seriously reduced first, and other ways to generate revenue are being seriously explored as well.


  5. - wordslinger - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 10:51 am:

    Borrow $400 million for operating costs? That’s a Big Bowl of Wrong. At the very least, it’s a backdoor tax increase because sooner-rather-than-later you’ll need new revenues to cover the nut.

    I’ve been surprised that during an era of Dem control there hasn’t been a revisiting of the RTA funding formula. There are a lot of empty PACE buses rolling around the suburbs.


  6. - Levois - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 10:55 am:

    How can the state wear the jacket on fare hikes? Public transit is basically a local issue anyway. The only reason the state would wear the jacket for fare hikes by transit agencies is when the state is unwilling to bail out a needed service such as transit.


  7. - Lee - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 10:57 am:

    Quinn seems to running into the same problem affecting Obama. It is a lot easier to run as populist/progressive than to actually have to govern.


  8. - The Doc - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 10:59 am:

    ==But let’s stick with the facts. Roads, bridges, and highways are funded by the people who use them.==

    You’re omitting a crucial point here, phocion. Roads, bridges, and highways are also funded substantially by people that don’t use them.

    And if one concedes that roads and such do operate in the black, it can be argued that the formulae for funding them is skewed heavily in their favor based on an outdated model, and at the expense of mass transit.


  9. - Will County Woman - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 11:04 am:

    @Word
    Quit picking on suburban Pace!

    I’m sure there are plenty of CTA buses roaming city streets at low or no ridership levels.

    As a case in point, I’m not sure why the #146 CTA bs for example needs to run a big ole articulated buses midday with all of 5 riders on it going south or north bound.

    But, your point is taken. It’s just not fair to single out PACE when the CTA is guilty of waste/bloat too.


  10. - PalosParkBob - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 11:04 am:

    Please, Rich, you’re much smarter than trying to make an analogy between a labor heavy public transit system and “expressways and streets”.

    If you want a fair and reasonable analogy, try comparing public transit with the tollways, where the mostly suburban and business users do make it operate in the black.

    Another example might be water and sewer service, which in most municipalities is close to self supporting through fees.

    While this year is (hopefully) an anomally because of the failed Obama “economic stimulus” and “Obamacare” plans inhibiting private sector job growth, a truly independent, professional, apolitical plan for reforming the CTA/RTA/PACE needs to be performed and implemented as a pre-condition to any additional taxpayer funding.

    Changes to state collective bargaining rules to prohibit increases in salaries and benefits beyond a percentage of new revenues also needs to be enacted.

    Add to the fact that the city of Chicago provides far less than most major cities for mass transit ($5 million from Hizzoner compared to about $280 million for NYC), and it’s pretty clear that to correct this “structural deficit” a modification to the CTA/RTA structure is needed.

    I’ve seen no action to make the CTA/RTA/PACE more accountable in it’s annual deficit production.

    Unfair bailouts and fare increases just address the symptoms, not the disease.

    It’s time to address the root causes of the problems, but the spineless GA is unlikely to grow a pair and do what needs to be done in mass transit.


  11. - Red Ranger - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 11:08 am:

    Its just crazy not to allow the CTA to raise rates. As a daily rider of the CTA, I know the bargain I am getting. Think about it, even at $6 a day, its a deal when compared to a car. $6 or more a day from O’hare, or Lincoln Park or the South Side to the Loop is so much better than a car. I know the arguments against raising fairs, but commuting costs at around $150 a month on the CTA is a deal by any measure.


  12. - ChicagoMatt - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 11:17 am:

    I know this may not be the smartest decision, but a fare increase would really hit us in Chicago hard. This may not be the right decision, but there has to be some sort of change besides raising fares. I believe that the fare increase would inflict costs of almost $600 a year for an individual that uses the train once a day. That’s a fairly hefty amount. His heart is in the right place, but maybe there are other methods.


  13. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 11:19 am:

    It would seem to me that everyone benefits from the roadway infrastructure. Without roads, bridges and highways there would be no way to move goods and services throughout the country. Furthermore all mass transport exclusive of rail based systems uses the same roads, bridges and highways that the privately owned transport does. I cannot imagine a single individual who does not benefit from this system which is primarily paid for by user fees.

    The rub seems to come from the fact that there are an enormous number of users who do not have any kind of mass transit available to them who believe the mass transit users need to absorb more of the operating costs than they currently do.

    I have not recently seen anyone ask that mass transit riders pay all the costs for their transport. Capital costs seem to be waived and the fare box collects less than half of the operating budget. The question is how much of a subsidy is enough?


  14. - Anonymous45 - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 11:22 am:

    The RTA is not run by just Democrats-there are a number of counties in the northern part of IL that are run by Republicans-intergovernmental jousting especially between the RTA and CTA is part of the reason the situation lingers-this is an issue of lack of cooperation, adequate state funding, and fiscal management by the transit agencies-don’t just blame Quinn and the Dems-there’s plenty of blame to go around…


  15. - phocion - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 11:29 am:

    ==You’re omitting a crucial point here, phocion. Roads, bridges, and highways are also funded substantially by people that don’t use them.==

    O.K. Doc, I’m curious about your claim here. MFT funds are what pays for roads and bridges. If you pay a motor fuel tax, you are driving. If you’re driving, you use highways, roads and bridges. How is it that people who don’t use them pay for them?

    Plutocrat03 - your points are well stated. We all benefit from a sound transportation infrastructure even though we don’t all pay for it.


  16. - Scooby - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 11:58 am:

    Isn’t giving the CTA money in exchange for a committment to not raise fees a funded mandate? I’m not clear on how that’s an unfunded mandate.


  17. - Rich Miller - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 12:00 pm:

    It’s unfunded because it is a two-year freeze and the “solution” probably won’t even solve the problem this year.


  18. - Will County Woman - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 1:00 pm:

    Chicago Matt, I agree with you and understand where you are coming from. The fare hikes are going to hurt many people, but having the state borrow a ton of money to appease the CTA doesn’t help because as we have seen too many times in the past the CTA is never satiated, and will only keep coming back year after year.

    The state has no money to bail/help anything out, let alone the CTA. The state is going to have to say no to the CTA. The CTA, like the state, needs to prioritize and get its fiscal house in order.

    Once the state and CTA gets some money, whether borrowed or as raised revenue, they just keep spending like there is no tomorrow.

    The state needs to stop being an enabler for CTA fiscal mismanagement etc.


  19. - VanillaMan - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 2:31 pm:

    Quinn is wrong to not rescind Blagojevich’s ridiculous freebie to seniors, and Quinn is also wrong to borrow hundreds of millions in order to make ends meet. If this is what Pat Quinn thinks passes for solutions, or even trying to work towards solutions, he isn’t the right guy to be a governor.


  20. - Jim Watkins - Friday, Oct 30, 09 @ 4:01 pm:

    The issue’s above are on key, but Gov Quinn did not write SB941, which does have in it to borrow up to $400 million for operating RTA transit systems. The bill also had in in it that Paratransit Funding would be taken up front before CTA, Pace and Metra recieved there funds. The funding for Paratransit would of run out of funds for 2009 in Oct. if not for the RTA bailing out. The 2010 proposed fare increases for CTA and Metra are minor compared to Pace Paratransit of Suburbs of $3.50 per ride, and Chicago of $5.00 per ride, double the fixed route fare. Public transportatiom has been underfunded in Illinois since 1961, locally (taxes, etc) and with fares it must pay for 50% of public transit budget, many other states is at 30%. The reason that every year is a doomsday is that we truly are under funded. Please do not blame the Senior Free Ride Program, in all of the 6 counties that RTA oversees service the cost this year is 37 million, that is a very small percentage of Public Transit funding for Northeastern Illinois.


  21. - Angry Chicagoan - Saturday, Oct 31, 09 @ 12:58 am:

    $3 is a completely excessive fare for what the CTA offers — considerable more than New York’s MTA or even for the vast majority of DC Metrorail rides within the District or Arlington/Alexandria — or any off-peak DC Metro ride whatsoever. Compared to Washington DC and New York, we will be expected to pay more money for slower, less frequent, dirtier, less dependable service.

    It’s not acceptable.


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