May 22, 2007
Michael J. Madigan – Speaker of the House
300 Capitol building
Dear Speaker Madigan,
All of Northeastern Illinois is facing a transportation crisis. As you probably already know, unless the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) receives $226 million in immediate additional funding BEFORE July 1, 2007 – when its current budget runs out, we will face either quite drastic service cuts and/or fare increases! Even worse, they could transfer funds from their maintenance and capital budgets into their operations budgets to try staggering along a few more months without having to cut services or raise fares. This leads directly to: (1) more bumps and “slow zones” for much slower commutes, (2) more frequent long delays due to train and/or bus equipment failure, and (3) much dirtier trains and busses. The productivity of the Chicago area will decrease as public transit commuters crowd onto our already congested streets and highways. All auto commuters and trucks will loose a lot more time as well.
Here are additional facts and figures, as well as the exact number of an Illinois House bill that addresses this situation:
· Public transit cuts leading to increased auto and truck congestion will create a lot more air pollution and CO2 promoting more rapid global warming and climate change.
· To provide a long-range solution to the annual transit fire drill, the RTA, parent of the three operating agencies, has meanwhile proposed long-range funding. Its program, Moving Beyond Congestion, calls for $10 billion in capital expenditures over the next five years, mostly just to maintain what we now have, plus some modest expansion. In addition, it indicates that $400 million per year in additional operating funds are needed. Its recommendations are supported by a year-long, recently-released review by the Illinois Auditor General.
· Representative Julie Hamos, Chair of the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee, has introduced legislation (HB 1841) to strengthen the RTA in significant ways, and this measure should accompany any State financial support. Meanwhile, the CTA has new leadership, pledged to eliminate waste and mismanagement, the latter highlighted by its huge unfunded pension obligation. It should be held to its promises to improve service and efficiency.
· What we need is a good, permanent solution to this transit funding problem, not just another “band-aid” which will only last a year before we face the same larger problem again. Where is this additional money for public transportation to come from? In all the US, Illinois ranks 45th in income tax – very near the bottom for all the states that even have an income tax – so a small increase would not hurt us. Other possibilities would be a small increase in the gasoline tax and/or increased parking taxes. I know it is unpopular for any politician to raise taxes, but the slow commutes and productivity loss will be less popular to both individuals and business.
I’m entirely in favor of better education, but the longer you all spend time discussing this and other matters and the closer we come to the end of this legislative session and July 1st, the more this transportation crisis looms in the background unheeded.