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Lawmakers vow to avert CTA cuts

Thursday, April 21, 2005
Evanston Review

State. Rep. Julie R. Hamos, D-18th, chairwoman of the House Committee on Mass Transit, expressed optimism Monday that the legislature would act to avert the deep service cuts announced last week by the Chicago Transit Authority, but said reform to the transit funding formula is needed to avoid future crises.

Hamos gathered with other legislators and city officials at a press conference in front of the Davis Street CTA and Metra stations in downtown Evanston, one of the communities that would be hit hardest under the proposed CTA cuts.

The plan approved by the CTA board April 13 would hike fares and slash service system wide by 36 percent, including eliminating the Evanston Express and many bus routes throughout the city -- unless state lawmakers approve a $55 million bailout by mid-July.

Hamos acknowledged the anxiety among officials about the cuts.

A top priority

"I can assure you that the Illinois Legislature is making this one of our top priorities for the spring session," she said, "and with the plan that we are working on right now to provide state and federal dollars for disabled services, that we will be able to prevent the service cuts."

Pressed for specifics after the press conference, she said a first step would be for the Legislature to look at the unfunded mandates for both Pace and the CTA that provide very important, but very expensive, services to people with disabilities.

"What we are going to try to do is provide some long-overdue state funding," she said, "and also make some of the rides available for federal funding through the Medicaid program. That will add to the pot and relieve the pressures the CTA and Pace have both on their current budgets."

Nonetheless, "that is not enough to move the region forward," Hamos warned. "I believe in the next 18 months, we also have to engage the entire region in some consensus building to really think through the kind of revenues we need to support transit in the future, and also to make sure that the wonderful expansions that are to be planned everywhere really have an opportunity to be implemented."

Hamos' committee addressed some of the issues last week in a report titled: "Is the 1983 Transit Funding Formula Ready for Reform?"

The report called for changes in the funding formula, which was created in 1983 for the Regional Transit Authority and other transit agencies.

The report concluded that "a significant portion of revenues generated in the Cook County suburbs are cross-subsidizing both collar county and city of Chicago transit service." (See chart).

State Sen. Jeffrey M. Schoenberg, D-9th, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also spoke at the press conference. He said the mass transit panel's report effectively highlights "the increasing mismatch between the sales tax revenues generated and distribution in each area over the past 22 years, and the level of transit service provided."

Taking a stronger tone than Hamos, he said that in light of the report's findings, the proposed cuts by the CTA are "nothing short of a slap in the face to this community and its residents. And I think it is fair to say we have no intention of going quietly."

Other legislators also indicated they would do what they could to fight the changes.

Cook County Commissioner Lawrence Suffredin, D-13th, of Evanston said one of the conditions he will set in approving appointments to the Metra and Pace boards in coming months will be finding members "willing to sit down and network with all the other transit services to improve the service."

Along with that, "it's time for the collar counties to come of age and pay their fair share," said Suffredin, an Evanston Express rider.

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