Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Budget Woes Again Threaten Chicago Transit Lines

New state and local taxes imposed last year won't be enough to balance the books this year for three Chicago region public transportation agencies. The Chicago Tribune reports that tax revenues are running below forecasts due to the weak economy and that a new "doomsday scenario" threatens the Chicago Transit Authority, which operates subways, elevated trains and buses in that city, Metra, which runs the commuter trains, and PACE, the suburban bus line.
"State lawmakers thought they fixed the funding problems, at least for 5 to 10 years, when they voted to increase mass-transit subsidies by boosting the transit portion of the sales tax in the six-county area. Chicago also increased its real estate transfer tax, directing more money to the CTA.

But sales taxes and real estate taxes have plummeted during the economic slowdown, reigniting the budget crisis.

"We all thought that the hard-won . . . legislation would provide sufficient resources to operate our system," RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman wrote to the heads of the transit agencies. "And while that legislation did increase our funding, as soon as it became law, economic conditions wiped out much of what we gained."
Jim Reilly, chair of the Regional Transportation Authority, the board that oversees finances at the three agencies, told Chicago Public Radio that the agencies shouldn't look to the state legislature for a new bailout. He added his agency hopes to find solutions that don't involve fare hikes or service reductions. CTA raised fares last month.

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