* I looked through today’s mass transit “deal” stories to find a different angle than we used yesterday, and figured this was as good a place to lead off our coverage as any…
As a high school choir sang “Winter Wonderland” at a tree-lighting ceremony at the Thompson Center Monday, a group of activists tried to drown them out, chanting “Tree lights out, bus lights on!”
The 10 ministers and wheelchair-bound CTA riders crashed the tree lighting, hosted by first lady Patti Blagojevich, to demand action in Springfield on the CTA funding shortfall. […]
“We’re here to tell elected officials enough is enough,” said Roosevelt Watkins, pastor at Bethlehem Star Church and a member of Pastors United for Change. “How can we sing Christmas carols when we know 2,400 people will lose their jobs?”
I don’t know much about that group, but it is a bit different. Rev. Watkins hosted a forum for Hillary Clinton in May, for instance, which allowed her to claim African-American support in Barack Obama’s home turf.
* Anyway, back to transit. Like I said, there’s not much “new” here if you were on the blog yesterday afternoon. Gatehouse…
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan now supports a mass transit funding plan backed by House Republicans and Gov. Rod Blagojevich — but the Chicago Democrat’s change of heart still may not be enough to get the transit bailout put into law.
Downstate Senate Democrats reiterated Monday that they will not support any mass transit plan until the General Assembly also approves a public works construction bill.
While Madigan now appears more in lockstep with Blagojevich and other legislative leaders about transit funding, his letter was silent about how to backfill the $385 million budget hole that redirecting gas-tax dollars to the RTA would leave. That’s among a host of issues that could derail the transit-bailout train in Springfield.
Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, said the speaker intends to work with Blagojevich to fill the gas-tax hole by ending corporate tax breaks.
Other lawmakers have suggested that new forms of gambling — including a Chicago casino, additional casinos outside Chicago and slot machines at horse tracks — could plug that gap and also fund a multibillion-dollar state construction program for roads, schools and other projects.
David Dring, a top Cross aide, was cautiously optimistic about Madigan’s new stance but stressed the construction program still has to be part of the overall transit-funding equation.
* Bethany Jaeger adds to this…
As far as plugging the hole in the state’s general fund, Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, mentioned the governor’s proposal to end some corporate tax breaks. “The speaker has been supportive of closing corporate loopholes in the past,” Brown said. “I suspect it’ll be something that will be addressed down the road. I don’t envision that being addressed this week.” He said the state Constitution limits the legislature to discussing a specific topic designated by the special session.
RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman said it was too soon to tell if Madigan’s move is a breakthrough.
* Mark Brown had an interesting take today…
If the House can approve the transit funding proposal Wednesday, when Blagojevich has called the Legislature into special session, that will put the onus on the Senate, where leaders of both parties have indicated a transit measure will go nowhere without the accompanying construction program.
If all they’re worried about is who should take the blame, that’s easy.
Blame Mayor Daley. It really is mostly his fault that it’s come to this point, which probably hasn’t been emphasized enough.
He’s the one who continued to milk the agency for its political patronage benefits while failing to grasp the depth of its problems or at least to treat them with the proper urgency until the system came to the brink of collapse. It’s his crisis more than theirs.
Blame Daley and move on.
Daley has effectively skirted blame in this mess, so Brown is right that some fingers ought to start pointing at hizzoner.
* Sen. Dale Righter puts his own spin on the situation…
What is the solution? First, the service reductions and fare increases that transit officials have warned us about should be implemented — they would be far from the catastrophe that the “doomsday” rhetoric has led some to believe. In fact, they consist of entirely reasonable and necessary fare increases of approximately 10%, and elimination of duplicative routes. After that is achieved, the systems’ compensation and oversight structures must change — they have become bloated and ineffective, as demonstrated by last year’s fire and the resulting NTBS findings. Then, and only after then, should there be a serious discussion of additional funding.
* But the CTA Tattler counters some of that logic…
[GOP Rep. Sandy Cole of Grayslake] makes this spurious argument in favor of a fare increase:
“”Between 2001 and 2006, the price of gasoline has increased 68 percent, but CTA cash fares have only increased 15 percent. It is fair to expect riders to pay for increased fares, just like motorists have to pay more for gasoline.”
Carfree Chicago has a good retort to that argument in comments on a post about the subject at Illinois Transportation Issues:
“Why should transit riders be punished for using an efficient form of transportation not affected as much by the shifts in the price of gasoline? Trains don’t run on gasoline. It justs sounds like pure whining — we have to pay more so you should too!”
I’d like the Republicans to fully show their cards on what that fare increase should look like.