House Guest - Julie Hamos
Without further delay, I give you Rep. Julie Hamos:
The CTA has now announced a balanced budget that should restore our faith that they can manage their own budget without draconian service cuts and a massive bailout from
Is CTA’s budget deficit due to mismanagement and inefficiency, as many suggest? CTA claims to have documented about $1 billion in cost-cutting initiatives since Frank Kruesi came on board in 1997. They have now engaged an outside team of efficiency experts to identify more. We won’t really know until the Auditor General concludes his independent audit, thanks to Rep. John Fritchey’s audit resolution, which passed unanimously during the spring legislative session.
From phone calls I have received as Chair of the Mass Transit Committee from “moles” inside the various transit agencies, I have come to believe that there are inefficiencies within the RTA, Metra and Pace – as well as the CTA. I will urge the legislature and the Auditor General to extend the audit to all of these transit agencies as well.
From our committee’s one-year-long probe of the transit system, here is what we do know:
First, we may have been disturbed by the threatened CTA service cuts last spring, but the truth is that the General Assembly had not analyzed the transit funding formula for 22 years. It took the CTA crisis to create the Mass Transit Committee and direct us to review the funding formula. No formula withstands that test of time, especially in a rapidly changing region. Shame on us for not taking action without a crisis!
Second, the CTA will continue to face an annual “structural” budget deficit until we change the funding formula. The 1983 formula provided for a fairly arbitrary distribution of sales tax dollars for RTA and the three transit agencies, with no relationship to transit performance or level of service. In a nutshell, the amount of sales tax dollars that are collected and distributed to the CTA have never been and never will be sufficient for CTA service – even when the economy rebounds. This is also true for Pace. The authors of the 1983 formula understood this, and expected the original formula to last only 5 years.
Third, as gas prices and the population of the region have increased, transit has become more important than ever. The suburbs and collar counties are now recognizing that the all-American love affair with the automobile is creating traffic congestion, pollution and a reduced quality of life for communities. Bold plans are being developed for transit expansions throughout the region, especially in the collar counties. It’s now up to us to develop new funding sources for these expansions, especially to match the new federal dollars that are available through the federal transportation bill.
Fourth, the RTA has new leadership, both the Chairman and the Executive Director, and it’s exciting that they actually have a vision for a regional system. We need to give them some powers to enforce systemwide coordination through a revised RTA Act.
Finally, we will require an extraordinary amount of regional consensus and cooperation to support the transit expansions that all parts of the region want and need. It will take “testicular virility” (to quote the Governor) to face the facts that new transit “revenues” (aka taxes) are needed to fulfill our transit vision and to ensure that federal dollars are not left on the table. The debate can’t devolve into city versus the suburbs, or CTA versus Metra and Pace. We’re all in this together, and the future of this dynamic, world-class region depends on us!