SPRINGFIELD — On the heels of the ongoing Metra scandal, Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday signed legislation that would take state health insurance and pension benefits away from future members of transit boards.
The plan, written by state Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo and Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington, takes effect immediately. It affects Metra, the RTA, PACE and the CTA.
Franks in particular has long targeted transit boards for cost cuts, saying the part-time jobs shouldn't qualify for full-time benefits.
The proposal was approved by lawmakers months before former Metra CEO Alex Clifford was given a severance package potentially worth more than $700,000 and investigations into the circumstances behind it began.
“I could tell they were going to screw up again,” Franks said of Metra. “It was just a matter of when.”
The new law fits in with recent calls from lawmakers that Metra board Chairman Brad O'Halloran step down and new legislation from state Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights that board members be limited to one term each.
The new law wouldn't affect sitting transit members unless they're reappointed. Quinn signed the proposal without comment.
Metra board member Jack Schaffer of Cary — the only vote against Clifford's severance — called the new law “not a big deal” because some Metra board members already take a pass on benefits. And he said his accumulated pension benefits for his time with Metra would top out at about $1,500 a year.
But, Schaffer said, there's a chance taking away board benefits in the wake of a scandal could make it harder to find good new candidates to appoint.
“If you want good people to serve on boards, you need to give them some incentives,” Schaffer said.
“You would hope they wouldn't all have to be millionaires,” he said.
The current Metra controversy started this spring when Clifford learned his contract might not be renewed. Clifford testified last week that he was forced out of the agency for resisting pressure from House Speaker Michael Madigan and others over jobs and contracts. O'Halloran has called Clifford's accusations “hooey.”
“It's clear that we need to do something drastic,” Franks said.
Investigations into the transit board continue, but Metra canceled a meeting this week after former U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins backed out of conducting his own probe, citing a conflict of interest.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.