Squabbling Finally Ends at RTA – At Least For Now
After years and years of bitter squabbling over every last penny, peace finally seems to have broken out at the Regional Transportation Authority.
The transit agency's board today unanimously approved the allocation of more than $1.5 billion in subsidies to keep buses and trains running for the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace. That process was eased by rising sales-tax receipts — the basis of most of the RTA's funding — but still is an achievement, given that in recent years battles dragged on well into the winter.
As usual, the CTA will get the bulk of that money. But the budget package includes some compromises, including deferring action on rebuilding the RTA's cash reserves until an independent public auditor makes recommendations on whether excess cash should best be held by the RTA or by the three operating agencies.
The RTA also will issue $100 million on bonds for capital projects as part of the budget deal.
The budget OK came on the heels of an apparently successful trip to Washington led by new RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard, who has pledged to restore comity to the agency in hopes that presenting a unified front will help it get more money from Washington and Springfield.
Mr. Dillard, in a phone interview, said he, Metra Chairman Martin Oberman and a representative from Pace met with Sens. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Mark Kirk, a Republican; had breakfast with Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, who heads the House Public Transportation Caucus; and convened with other congressmen.
CTA President Forrest Claypool was scheduled to participate, too, but had to change his plans at the last minute, Mr. Dillard said.
The RTA asked the congressmen not for grants for specific agencies but for overall funding that would benefit everyone, Mr. Dillard said. Included was a request to renew tax breaks in which commuters can set aside money for tickets out of their pre-tax income, and passing a major, multiyear national transit capital bill.
The first could happen this fall, Mr. Dillard said, but the latter likely will have to wait until next year, with Congress still divided on how to pay for the measure. Capital funds now come from a national tax on gasoline, but those receipts are running short and Congress has not been able to agree on a supplement.
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