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posted: 9/18/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: RTA needs to be fair to Metra, Pace

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The tricky world of transportation funding in the Chicago area hit a snag last week. There is time for compromise and we urge the Chicago representatives on the Regional Transportation Authority board to be fair to the suburbs when making a final determination as to how to divvy up money available for all components of the region's public transportation grid.

While most of the money the RTA splits among the CTA, Metra and Pace is determined by a state formula -- 56 percent to the CTA, 32 percent to Metra and 12 percent to Pace -- another piece of the pie is discretionary, and the RTA decides how to dole it out.

Traditionally, the CTA gets at least 95 percent of that discretionary money. And that's what the RTA staff recommended for 2013 as well.

Under that scenario, of the $184.8 million in discretionary funds, CTA would get $175.8 million and Pace and Metra would each get $4.5 million.

Although a lower percentage of the discretionary funds, that's more money than the CTA received last year, when it got $168.7 million, but it wasn't enough for the Chicago representatives on the board, who said they should receive 99 percent of the money for 2013,

"The CTA can't run its system without the lion's share of discretionary funding. I'm uncomfortable about the erosion of funds," said RTA Director and former CTA Chairman Carole Brown.

Hmmm. Lion's share? Getting 95 percent still qualifies.

Erosion? Getting $16.1 million more than last year is hardly an erosion.

Eight suburban board members approved the staff recommendation and six Chicago members opposed it. Without 12 supporters, the measure failed and now the two sides must hammer out an agreement.

We understand CTA President Forrest Claypool's budget concerns. The agency faces a $162 million deficit despite making cuts.

But Metra raised rates this year while Pace has cut routes in recent years and both need funding as well.

"It's wrong to keep hammering at Metra and Pace ... ," said suburban Cook County Director John Frega.

On the positive side, more sales tax money is coming in to the RTA to help with funding. So it's concerning to see a dispute like this at the same time as new board appointees by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel come on board.

As we said last week in a dispute between the city and DuPage County over information on water rates, it is important for the mayor -- and his staff and appointees -- to get even more serious about working cooperatively on regionwide issues.

Great strides have been made over the years between the suburbs and city. We do not want to see a backward slide.

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