Members of a state task force got an earful from transit leaders about funding dysfunction and rivalries over a shrinking revenue pie Wednesday.
Gov. Pat Quinn's panel is supposed to study how to eliminate waste, fraud and abuses and streamline any administrative redundancies at Metra, Pace, the CTA and Regional Transportation Authority.
Dominating discussion by the group's finance committee was an ongoing controversy -- how to divide about $189 million in so-called RTA discretionary funds. Along with fares, transit agencies receive revenues from sales taxes that's mostly allocated by a set formula.
But plans by the RTA to give the CTA about $185 million of the discretionary funds and Pace $3.8 million while leaving out Metra have created heartburn this year. At the RTA's September meeting, a vote establishing revenues for the three transit agencies failed for lack of consensus.
The money is actually "not discretionary, we've been getting it for 30 years ... it's part of our budget," CTA Chief Financial Officer Ron DeNard said. The Chicago Transit Authority favors formalizing the tradition to avoid "all this bickering," DeNard explained.
But Metra argues that as the economy improves and sales taxes grow, the commuter rail agency should share in the spoils.
"If the status quo was in my favor, I also would advocate locking (discretionary funding) down," Metra Chief Financial Officer Tom Farmer said. "We do not believe it is equitable. We believe some people in the region are being left out."
Meanwhile, Pace Deputy Executive Director Terry Brennan testified that although the suburbs comprise two-thirds of the region's jobs and two-thirds of the population, the bus service "can't effectively serve that market," because of systemic underfunding.
Quinn called the task force together following a scandal at Metra this summer over an up-to $718,000 separation package given to ex-CEO Alex Clifford. Clifford has accused two former directors of misconduct.
A preliminary report by the task force is expected before the General Assembly's fall veto session.
The group's members include former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider and Metropolis Strategies CEO George Ranney of Grayslake.