Monday, October 10, 2005

House Guest - Julie Hamos

I want to thank my colleague State Represenative Julie Hamos for being the first legislator to step up and contribute an opinion piece for this blog. Julie is the Chairman of the House Mass Transit Committee. She has been working doggedly on the mass transportation funding issue and has really been taking the lead in working to find an equitable solution to the question of how we fund the CTA, Pace and Metra. If you want more information on Julie, her website is If you want a primer on the mass transit issue, read on.

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 Springfield. However, to achieve this balanced budget, CTA had to take some unpopular but necessary steps, including a fare increase for cash fares and use of some capital dollars for operations.

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!


At October 10, 2005 at 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I applaude Rep. Hamos's call for an adit to go beyond the CTA. At the same time though she calls for more money through higher taxes without seeing the outcome of any audit of the service boards. Obviously we know the outcome of the happenings of her "Mass Transportation" committee..

At October 10, 2005 at 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Would you be so kind (bold) as to address the Kreusi credibility issue. I mean if ordinary citizens don't trust the guy, I can't imagine that the legislature does. And I'm not asking this in jest. I think that Kreusi's presence at the helm makes it more difficult for the CTA to get the assistance that it needs from Springfield.

At October 10, 2005 at 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The First Law of Chicago Mass Transit infighting:

"For every metric demonstrating your agency is more effective at providing mass transit to its ridership, there is an equal and opposite metric proving the opposing agency is more effective at providing mass transit to its ridership."

Collolary: Everyone's right. And it's gonna cost us taxpayers.

Now we will find out where the power really lies in Illinois. Can one bureaucrat get away with looting another's budget in an era where revenues are growing far more slowly than expenses?

This is a classic case of the bureaucracy turning on itself. I have been following this story since it began, and I can't wait to see how it turns out. My guess: CTA gets the short end of the stick, or magic money from Springfield (read: 'tax swap') pushes this problem off into the future.

Next up: The CTA's pension time bomb.

At October 10, 2005 at 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rep. Hamos,

Thank you for your honesty and leadership on this important issue. As a transit user, I am okay with a fee increase if I know that the agencies (CTA especially) are running like they are supposed to. Which is why I am also glad that the House passed Rep. Fritchey's audit resolution. It will be very interesting to see what the audit shows.

At October 10, 2005 at 4:58 PM, Blogger Randall Sherman said...

Kruesi's proposal for the 2006 budget, which would force cash riders to fork over $2 every time they stepped on a bus or rapid transit train, is another example of his continued attempts to set in stone a two-class system on the CTA. Kruesi's economic apartheid would place virtually all of burden of balancing his bloated budget on those riders least able to afford it... those who do not have the means (or a credit card) to put up $75 in advance for a 30-day pass (or even lesser amounts for the shorter passes). Those with passes will not be paying anything more. However, the poor riders will be screwed yet again.

It is long past the time for state legislators to find themselves backbones and remove this parasite of public transit from his position of authority, as part of the needed overhaul of our mass transit system and how it is funded. Dump Kruesi, and you give your colleagues (those who fear political retribution for doing the right thing on this issue) the political cover they need.

If Kruesi's scheme goes through, you risk increased tensions between the haves and have-nots in Chicago, tensions that will (if not checked) eventually erupt into a mess (or worse) that no one really wants.

Secretary/Treasurer, Illinois Committee for Honest Government

At October 10, 2005 at 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Mr. Sherman, you might want to actually read the proposal. You don't need a credit card, or anything approaching $75, to avoid a fare increase -- bus fares remain $1.75 if you use a transit card, which can be purchased using cash almost anywhere, and rail fares remain $1.75 if you get a cash-loading Chicago Card, which can be reloaded using cash at any rail station.

Admittedly it's not the simplest thing to explain, but -- just like I-Pass -- once you figure it out, you're done, and traffic moves faster and we all save money because the system is more efficient.

At October 10, 2005 at 10:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When is Toni Berrios going to opine?

At October 10, 2005 at 11:33 PM, Blogger respectful said...

Julie demonstrates leadership in the House, and her transit committee has done some valuable analysis. One fact she uncovered is that suburban Cook subsidizes both the collar counties and the City by $100 million a year. If and when RTA taxes are raised, suburban Cook should not have to pay more -- at least not until the collars and the City are paying their share.

At October 14, 2005 at 10:54 AM, Anonymous Peter Skosey said...

Thank you Julie for another thoughtful and dead on analysis of this on going saga. I look forward to real progress next year so we won't be facing the same crisis in '07.

I also agree that the CTA did what it had to do with their budget. Sure, who likes to pay more? I will, as a a transit card user who takes the train, but I still think at $2 the CTA is a bargin: beats driving any day.

At October 18, 2005 at 2:23 PM, Blogger Hugh said...

Ms. Hamos posted:

"The CTA has now announced a balanced budget that should restore our faith that they can manage their own budget without draconian service cuts ... "

For Ms. Hamos, one Board vote got the CTA into this public relations disaster, and another Board vote can get it out? Sorry, not that simple. I mean really, come on! Could the CTA Board have possibly passed another budget as bone-headed as the last one?

"We won’t really know until the Auditor General concludes his independent audit ... "

Ms. Hamos' faith is restored. She doesn’t need no stinking audit.

" ... we may have been disturbed by the threatened CTA service cuts last spring, but the truth is that ... It took the CTA crisis to create the Mass Transit Committee and direct us to review the funding formula."

Ms. Hamos seems to be willing to chalk our experience of this spring up to a marvelous learning experience. What Ms. Hamos learned this summer is that the Illinois House needs another committee. What the most of us learned is that the CTA needs new management.


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