Bipartisan Group Asks House to 'Fix' Pending Transportation Bill
February 13, 2012
Crain's Chicago Business
In a rare bit of bipartisanship, a group of public and civic officials — including a Republican congressman, a former GOP candidate for governor and an agency that mostly serves suburban residents — Monday called for the House to make big changes in a transportation bill.
Headed by U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski, a conservative Chicago Democrat, and Bob Dold, a North Shore Republican, the group urged House GOP leadership to restore guaranteed funding for Metra and other mass-transit operators, and to tone down the bill's reliance on offshore oil drilling as a revenue source.
The bill likely will fail if changes are not made before Thursday's scheduled House floor vote, the group suggested.
"This is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. It's an American issue," said Mr. Dold, noting that the transcontinental railway was funded with bipartisan support 150 years ago. "A strong transportation and infrastructure bill is key to moving our economy forward."
"We're calling on House Republican leaders to fix this bill," said Mr. Lipinski, who lost a fight in committee to amend the measure.
As now written, the bill would endanger $450 million a year in transit grants to Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace, and cost Illinois at least $650 million in road funds over the next five years. "This bill cannot pass the House in its current form," Mr. Lipinski said.
A similar message came from Metra, which has written the Chicago area's 13 House members to oppose the current bill, and the CTA, which would lose tens of millions of dollars a year unless it somehow separates its bus and train operations.
And from Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Doug Whitley, a former Republican candidate for governor. Like Mr. Dold, he said the bill has admirable features, including its five-year length. But the hit on transit is too hard, he said, referring to a 30-year-old deal in which transit was guaranteed a 20 percent cut of federal gasoline tax revenues, with the remainder going toward roads.
House leaders propose to replace that with a one-time, $40 billion grant to be funded by revenues from oil drilling and requiring federal workers to pick up more of their pension costs. But the transit chiefs say neither of those is likely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, which would leave transit funding uncertain.
As I reported on Friday, two other area Republicans have expressed strong reservations about the bill, Judy Biggert of Hinsdale and Adam Kinzinger of Joliet. But two others, Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren, both of Wheaton, voted for the package in committee. It is uncertain whether any change will be supported by Mr. Roskam, whose district is home to many Metra riders but who is a member of House leadership.
4:30 p.m. update: Add the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to the list of those who want the House to rework that transportation bill.
"Mass transit is the centerpiece of our economy and federal funding helps keep it affordable for everyone to use," Chamber President and CEO Gerald Roper said in a statement. "In a time when our country needs jobs, we need to push congressional leaders to figure out ways to provide more funding for mass transit projects to keep the economy moving, not stop it in its tracks."
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