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If you think all of that local RTA sales tax money goes to transportation, think again

Monday, Dec 2, 2019

* Greg Hinz

Providing public transportation services to people with disabilities and mobility-limited seniors has not been a priority in the Chicago area—and it shows.

Stripped of the niceties, that’s the bottom line of a report out today by the Metropolitan Planning Council that proposes a host of solutions to remedy the problem, from appointing a mobility czar of sorts to requiring ride-hailing services to better link their operations to Metra and other train operators.

“Nearly every person in the Chicago region, or someone they care for, will face a disability that will impact on their mobility at some point in their life,” says the report. Yes, despite long-standing federal law, “the experience of getting around using (Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and other operators) ranges from fairly reliable and affordable to maddeningly frustrating and expensive.”

Some of MPC’s solutions will draw widespread nods from policymakers. Others, because of costs or political turf battles, may be a harder sell.

It’s a good story, so go read the rest.

* But this part of the study was pointed out to me by someone who works in this field

The Rebuild Illinois capital funding bill passed in June 2019 includes significant new dedicated transportation revenues and enables counties to levy an additional motor fuel tax to raise transportation funds. Every effort should be made to ensure that new investments make the system more accessible.

Additionally, other established transportation funding mechanisms are being diverted away from transportation projects such as the 0.25% RTA sales tax in the collar counties. Due to a political compromise, RTA sales tax revenue can also be used for “public safety” purposes. Funds used in this way generally go toward capital projects for law enforcement or other emergency services. As shown below, some counties choose to spend none of the RTA sales tax revenue on transportation. Ending the diversion of transportation revenue already being collected would enable the provision of a minimum level of accessible demand-response service for all residents. Given the scale of revenue invested in transportation annually, counties should appropriate at least some of these funds to dedicated universal mobility programs.

According to the study, Kane County’s spends 75 percent of its RTA sales tax revenue of $18.5 million on transportation. Will County spends 93 percent of its $24.9 million on transportation. Lake County ($32 million) and McHenry County ($10.6 million) spend 100 percent of their RTA tax revenues on transportation.

But DuPage spends none of its $52 million in annual RTA tax receipts on transportation. Zero.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

15 Comments »
  1. - Ok - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 12:57 pm:

    I seem to recall this as an issue in the Quinn capital bill days - or the CTA/RTA bailout days - didn’t the Dupage money go to the county building or something?


  2. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 1:45 pm:

    Might this practice be unconstitutional under the new Transportation Funds amendment? It seems like the RTA sales tax would be a qualifying tax under Section (a) of the amendment (won’t quote it here because it is very long).


  3. - Bored Chairman - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    The sales tax is on every product generally, and therefore does not come under the Lockbox. Still, PACE and other transit in DuPage should get their state dollars reduced as a percentage that the county diverts the RTA sales tax to non-transportation or transit purposes.


  4. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 1:52 pm:

    Key words

    “Due to a political compromise”


  5. - Father Ted - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 1:59 pm:

    Bored- what would that solve? Why penalize the transit agencies (and ultimately, riders) for decisions made by the counties?

    Back to the post, the excerpt correctly identifies this flexibility on the part of the counties resulting from a compromise. I believe DuPage was the driver of the compromise and McHenry was initially opposed to using the funds for transportation, though the latter has obviously acquiesced. Nevertheless, I don’t agree with MPC’s statement that redirecting the extra money to transportation solves the mobility problems. This stuff costs serious money to do it well to the level that you would hear few or none of the tough stories about late pickups or long trips.


  6. - Tim - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 2:10 pm:

    You might want to mention that DuPage County might be the most fiscally stable and well run county in the state. You might want to consider that when you are throwing them under a bus for their fiscal decisions.


  7. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 2:16 pm:

    It’s a strange loophole that the RTA sales tax is not a transit tax, but I understand what Bored Chairman is saying. I think he meant reducing the revenue sharing and not transit funds for the counties that divert the RTA sales tax to non-transit uses. I think Lyft does somewhat integrate its services with public transit or at least it looks that way on the app.


  8. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 2:37 pm:

    ===You might want to mention===

    You might want to get your own blog.


  9. - Ok - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 2:41 pm:

    ===the most fiscally stable and well run county in the state.===

    Because they apparently let other counties pick up the cost for their residents to commute to Chicago everyday and keep that money for themselves.


  10. - Anonymous - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 3:17 pm:

    Easy to be fiscally stable when you got an extra $52 million lying around that doesn’t go towards its intended purpose.


  11. - NIU Grad - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 3:26 pm:

    “that DuPage County might be the most fiscally stable and well run county in the state.”

    Because they have neglected their ability to provide basic government services (even elections for crying out loud) and have taken a step back from engaging in the regional transportation network by not spending their RTA funds properly. If they’re so fiscally conservative, they should stop asking for political nuggets from Springfield to fund the projects they don’t want to include in their county budget.


  12. - Almost the weekend - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 4:14 pm:

    DuPage County, if you are not successful, you didn’t pull your boot straps high enough.


  13. - Tim - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 6:35 pm:

    Rich,

    Just pointing out that if they are not required by statute to spend the money they receive for a specific purpose they don’t have to. You don’t have to more money at a problem than you need to. Otherwise, DuPage could end up looking a lot like Cook County or the City of Chicago fiscally and there’s no reason to so that if you don’t have to. I find it kind of disappointing that your blog is so hostile to folks that don’t tow the party line. I enjoy reading people’s opinions even if I don’t always agree with them.


  14. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 2, 19 @ 8:39 pm:

    === Otherwise, DuPage could end up looking a lot like Cook County or the City of Chicago fiscally===

    LOL

    They’re using transportation money for law enforcement. What are you getting at?


  15. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Thursday, Dec 5, 19 @ 9:09 am:

    == Just pointing out that if they are not required by statute to spend the money they receive for a specific purpose they don’t have to.==
    No breaking any laws perhaps. But how about the needs of disabled and elderly in DuPage County? DuPage County isn’t exactly famous for its public transportation. How do disabled and elderly manage to get around?


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