The conventional wisdom is that the Chicago Transit Authority leaders are continuing to shoot themselves in the foot in their effort to get a bigger slice of transit funding in the six-county region. First they botch the Brown Line, telling everyone that they can get it done without any station closings, only to reverse course a few years later before construction is set to start, infuriating the electeds along the line. Then they take a hard line with the Illinois General Assembly, telling the world that either the state comes up with $60 or $80 or $100 million or so to plug a structural deficit, or the fare hikes and service cuts will the state's fault. As one senior senator told me "Fuck CTA. You put a gun to my head? Sheeit." Loosely translated, state legislators don't like getting put into a corner and told that it is their responsibility -- and they will be held accountable -- if new money isn't found.
And most people blame the CTA for their current woes.
I think they might be getting a raw deal from conventional wisdom.
First, assume that the CTA is correct on the substance -- they are getting the short end of the transit funding stick in the region. Remember, Cook County taxpayers pay 1% sales tax, while the other counites (Will, DuPage, McHenry, Kane and Lake) all pay only 0.25% sales tax. CTA also runs a 24-hour service while Metra in the burbs need not. And the numbers don't lie. CTA and Pace are broke, while Metra is doing very well financially, thank you very much.
And here we are approaching April and the only legislative solution so far for new money is a propsed software tax to close a big business loophole. That's expected to generate $66 million or so, and in the Governor's proposed budget, all the money goes to the CTA. Is that enough to avoid the upcoming fare hikes and service cuts? Maybe this year.
Ultimately, the remedies are (a) a return to the pre-1993 federal operating subsidies for mass transit -- it was President Clinton who was the first to propose eliminating the federal dollars for mass transit (b) raise the sales tax to 1% in the other counties, and put that extra money into transit in a way that convinces the suburbanites that it benefits the whole region and not just the CTA (c) raise the gasoline tax (my personal favorite) and (d) reallocate the existing funds to put more into CTA and Pace and less into Metra and the RTA bureaucracy.
Those remedies are not so much on the table. Representative Julie Hamos is chairing the Mass Transit Committee to look to hash out a consensus solution, and there's been a lot of good work done already, but a solution has yet to emerge.
So what else is CTA supposed to do but start the process of fare hikes and service cuts without adequate funding? And they get the heat as the bad guys. It doesn't seem quite right to me.
UPDATE: State Representative John Fritchey is one of the North Side electeds who is quite unhappy with the CTA's handling of the Brown Line. This article in the Sun-Times lays out how Fritchey doesn't believe the CTA's line that it is impossible to change the construction schedule to avoid station closings.
I wonder if the ultimate state remedy is some more accountability or transparency. I'm not sure exactly how that might work. Ideas are welcome.
UPDATE TWO: I've got some figures from the RTA. This is the 1983 deal which the CTA contends leaves them on the short end of the stick.
Source of sales tax
Chicago (1%) Cook burbs (1%) Collars (.25%) (Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Will, Kane)
CTA 100% 30% 0%
Metra 0% 55% (!) 70%
Pace 0% 15% 30%
So that's the point that CTA is raising. CTA thinks that 55% in suburban Cook for Metra is way too high, and that the collars ought to pay more than 0.25% sales tax for the service in the collars.