* From the West Central Mass Transit District’s website…
The West Central Mass Transit District announced today that all of its transportation services in the six county area including Morgan, Scott, Cass, Schuyler, Brown and Pike will be suspended as of the end of the business on Saturday, October 15, 2016. Suspension of services comes after the notification by the Illinois Comptroller’s office that State Grant fund payments will not be made before December 2016. Public transportation services will not be reinstated until such time that funds owed to the system by the State of Illinois Department of Transportation are received. West Central Mass Transit District is awaiting payment of two IDOT approved requisitions currently at the Comptroller’s office totaling $696,620.00.
All 57 employees of the district have been issued layoff notices effective at the end of business Saturday, said executive director R. Jean Jumper.
Jumper said the agency is owed over $696,000 from downstate transportation grants for the first two quarters of the fiscal year that started July 1. The Jacksonville-based agency also gets some federal money, but that hasn’t arrived either because the Illinois Department of Transportation hasn’t processed contracts that would allow the district to collect the money, Jumper said. […]
Money for the grant comes from a portion of the state sales tax, part of the state’s general revenue fund that is stretched beyond its limits trying to cover all of the state’s bills. […]
The district serves Morgan, Scott, Cass, Schuyler, Brown and Pike counties. It is a demand-and-response district where riders call for appointments to receive transportation. Jumper said the district provides 190,000 to 200,000 trips a year.
I happen to know somebody who relies on that particular service. She’s an elderly woman who had a massive stroke and her wheelchair won’t fit into her daughter’s car, so she is reliant on the transit district for rides to her doctor appointments.
* As I told subscribers today, this is a growing issue all over the state. 53 Downstate transit systems are owed a combined $156 million. But instead of doing some triage and preventing the most vulnerable systems from shutting down, the comptroller is taking a hands-off approach…
Connect Transit [which serves the Bloomington-Normal area] is one of many transit systems, especially downstate, facing major budget issues because the state is behind on payments to them. Rural provider Show Bus, which serves seven Central Illinois counties, including McLean, DeWitt, Ford and Livingston, also is in danger of suspending service, at an undetermined date.
Rich Carter, a spokesman for Comptroller Leslie Munger, said transit payments are behind due to the state’s ongoing general fund bill backlog, currently $9.3 billion, and low revenue, especially in October and November.
“Payments right now are averaging about four months in arrears,” he said.
Downstate transportation money is generated by state sales tax that flows into the general fund. It’s then transferred to a fund specifically for transportation, but that transfer is overdue.
Transit systems are expected to be paid quarterly, but Connect Transit and Show Bus weren’t paid in July or October. Both draw about two-thirds of their total revenue from the state.
If they’re four months behind, those July payments should’ve arrived already. But they haven’t. In fact, it’s been far longer than four months.
* Kankakee’s transit system will close next month and the system claims they’re still owed money from January…
The River Valley Metro bus system will provide its last ride Nov. 18 if the Illinois comptroller’s office doesn’t release the badly-needed sales tax revenue dedicated to the downstate transportation fund.
An estimated 2,643 rides are provided through the 12-daily routes and two-commuter routes the system maintains each day of the week.
Of the district’s $7 million general budget, more than 65 percent of it comes from the state.
The state has been holding back sales tax money since January, said Rob Hoffmann, River Valley Metro director. In all, the state owes the downstate public transportation system — which includes all the systems outside of the Regional Transportation Authority boundary — about $135 million.
River Valley alone is owed about $3.7 million, said Ken Munjoy, Metro’s general manager. About $2.3 million of that total is from the 2016 fiscal year.
Lots of people depend on that transit system to get them to the nearest Metra stop several miles north of Kankakee.
The bus system says it will be out of cash by Thanksgiving. The district filed a lawsuit Thursday in the Kankakee County Circuit Court against the state seeking operating money. […]
“The money is simply not available. The only way to stop this free fall is to pass a balanced budget that provides funding to make these payments,” [Rich Carter, spokesman for Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger] said.
C’mon. You’re telling me there aren’t a few bucks in the couch cushions to keep some of the more vulnerable systems alive for a couple of months?
*** UPDATE 1 *** Apparently, the system currently requires the comptroller to do an “all or nothing” payment to those Downstate transit systems. IDOT can’t break up the vouchers into smaller amounts to keep some of these systems afloat.
This should’ve been addressed in the stopgap legislation. It wasn’t and so here we are. Instead of being on the verge of starving, the hostages just die - or lapse into a coma until December when sales tax money spikes up again.
We need some more revenue, people.
*** UPDATE 2 *** From the comptroller’s office…
The months of October and November are very weak revenue months. Our high priority expenditures such as debt service, schools, payroll, foster care, child care, pensions etc. utilize all of the revenue in these weak months and leave us no room to pay anything else. The last time we transferred money into the Downstate Public Transportation Fund was on June 21st and that transfer enabled us to pay all vouchers from that fund. The oldest voucher currently in the Downstate Public Transportation Fund is August 8th which is a little more than two months behind.