Editorial: Approval of the CTA plan is needed


On Tuesday, legislators will return to Springfield to deal with what some will deem a "bail out" of Chicago's mass transit system. Actually, the legislation - Senate Bill 572 - sponsored by Rep. Julie Hamos appears to us to be a well-formulated plan that could avert drastic cutbacks in metro-Chicago public transportation services, while also providing more stable long-term funding of the Chicago Transportation Authority and the Regional Transportation Authority.

The measure also makes important and long-overdue reforms to CTA pension and retiree health care costs, which along with a solid, new revenue source, should greatly assist in keeping the transit system from heading to Springfield each year looking for a temporary solution to its latest fiscal crisis.

We realize that many of us living south of Interstate 80 have a visceral reaction when confronted with a "bail-out" plan for Chicago.  But we believe approval of this transit plan would be just one part of what needs to be done to shore up Illinois' infrastructure.

It is foolish to think that allowing mass transit in northeastern Illinois to fly off the tracks would not affect the rest of the state. Whether you like the Chicago area or not, it is an economic engine for the entire state, and a well-functioning mass transit system is what fuels that engine. Without state intervention, drastic cuts in service will begin by the middle of this month.

But state intervention should not be translated as state bail out. Senate Bill 572 calls for a sales tax increase in the six-county RTA region plus a new real estate transfer tax in Chicago to provide the bulk of the transit funding. Yes, a state match will mean downstaters will be helping to pay for Chicago transportation, but that already occurs. And, don't forget, Chicago also helps to pay for much public spending downstate.

Meanwhile, Tuesday should be only the beginning of serious infrastructure talk among our elected representatives. Governor Rod Blagojevich and the General Assembly need to get serious about crafting a capital plan that will allow Illinois to take full advantage of the billions of federal dollars our Congressional delegation has negotiated.

In late May, Senator Dick Durbin wrote Blagojevich and the legislative leaders urging them to set aside petty, political bickering that could cost the state $6.1 billion.

"We understand that the state of Illinois needs to provide as much as $1.2 billion to complete all of the projects in our state that are eligible for federal matching funds ... If the State of Illinois does not enact a capital bill and provide the non-federal match this year, as much as $6.1 billion in federal funding could be at risk," warned Durbin.

More recently, Durbin told the Chicago Tribune editorial board that he "begged" the governor and leaders, "If you can't agree on anything else, please don't miss out on this opportunity for federal funds. It looks like we missed a year of construction. We're just squandering these opportunities to bring federal resources in."

A U.S. Senator should not have to beg his state's leaders to do their jobs. Yet, the stupidity seems far from over. The governor opposes the mass transit reforms because it involves a tax increase. He says the system can instead be fixed by closing business tax loopholes. Blagojevich needs to learn that pandering is not governing. Likewise, true statesmanship and willingness to get a worthwhile capital bill done has been lacking among some legislative leaders as well.  No wonder Durbin said he'd rather mediate the warring factions in Iraq than do the same for his own state Democratic officials. The operating budget is finally in place, but the work isn't done until a capital bill has passed. That won't happen until the ego-driven game playing ends.

- State Journal-Register