* As the deadline approaches for mass transit service cuts and fare increases, Chicago and suburban legislators are getting more and more calls from frantic constituents who are wondering how they’ll get to work. A million and a half people ride the CTA every day and lots more depend on the RTA and PACE. Needless to say, the panic levels are rising in legislative circles as more and more constituents become convinced that they hold the keys to solving this pending crisis.
Without a solution, the mass transit situation has the potential to be every bit as politically explosive for Chicago-area legislators as the Ameren rate hikes have been for Downstaters. So, while yesterday’s CTA union agreement is welcome news, it puts additional pressure on the Statehouse to come up with a real funding solution.
The agreement calls for 10,200 employees represented by 17 unions to receive 3 percent pay raises during the first three years and 3.5 percent in the final two years. The CTA has also agreed to double its pension fund contribution — from 6 percent of payroll to 12 percent to satisfy the Legislature’s demand that a pension fund now 34 percent funded reach 90 percent by 2059.
In exchange for those pay raises and a no-layoff clause, active employees will contribute 3 percent toward retiree health care and double — from 3 percent to 6 percent — their pension contribution.
Employees hired after Jan. 1, 2008, would become eligible for a full pension at age 64 instead of 55.
Illinois’ auditor general would be represented on an 11-member “pension reform trust” and on a seven-member health care trust that would sustain itself through investments and contributions so the CTA could wash its hands of the headache.
The bottom line for CTA unions is an agreement that would force bus drivers and motormen to lose money during the first year, break even in the second and finally start making money in the third year.
* And it turns out that the CTA needs far more money than previously believed…
It had been believed the CTA would need $100 million or $125 million next year to avert a crisis, but CTA President Ron Huberman on Wednesday put the figure at about $200 million to cover health-care and pension expenses and other operating-cost increases.
* Mayor Daley tossed the ball in Springfield’s court yesterday…
“Now it’s time for the governor and the General Assembly to follow through.”
* The governor supports giving the CTA $100 million, which it now turns out will only meet half the need.
The problem with Blagojevich’s plan is that it uses precious state dollars and would only send cash to the CTA, while mass transit advocates are pushing a proposal that would impose a tiny quarter percent sales tax in the areas served by the CTA and the RTA and a real estate transfer tax in Chicago. That proposal would generate far more money over many more years and would help solve the system’s structural problems. But Blagojevich has promised to veto the legislation if it ever reaches his desk…
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said she doesn’t want to see the proposal for a quarter-cent increase in the regional sales tax called for a vote unless legislative leaders can persuade Blagojevich to not veto it.
“People are not going to want to be on the line for the bill if it isn’t going to happen,” Currie said.