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updated: 10/18/2013 6:13 PM

Transit funding spat resolved; consultant says status quo not working

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  • Pat Durante

      Pat Durante

  • John S. Gates

      John S. Gates

 
 

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the amount of the discretionary funds.

After weeks of feuding, the Regional Transportation Authority, Metra, Pace and the CTA reached a deal on funding Wednesday.

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DuPage RTA Director Pat Durante cast the only no vote, reflecting county Chairman Dan Cronin's dissatisfaction with what he considers an unfair funding formula.

"DuPage has a problem with the (funding) formula," Durante said.

But RTA Chairman John S. Gates said the board's action was significant. "We've gone a long way to avoiding (a crisis)," he said.

The four boards should have agreed on preliminary revenues back in September, but a suburban/Chicago schism over so-called discretionary funds caused gridlock.

The behind-the-scenes negotiations and deadline drama were a backdrop to a consultant's report released Wednesday that concluded the RTA, which has financial oversight of Metra, Pace and the CTA, needs an overhaul.

Delcan Corp., which has a $382,800 contract with the RTA, offered some ideas on how to distribute revenues to the CTA, Metra and Pace. These included basing funding on: where sales taxes originate, how well the agencies perform and a competitive process for grants.

Another suggestion was to meld the four entities into one superagency with a majority of members appointed by the governor.

Delcan's recommendation that some funding be distributed based on geography was prescient.

Cronin has long argued the current system doesn't reflect the amount of money the suburbs generate in sales taxes to Chicago and the CTA's advantage.

RTA directors said they needed time to go over the Delcan report.

Early Wednesday, it appeared the RTA didn't have the votes to set the revenue levels for each agency, which kicks off the budget process. But a last-minute peace was brokered by the RTA essentially forgiving a $56 million loan to the CTA, which the agency contends was a grant, as well as offering Metra $2 million for capital projects and giving the CTA assurances it would get 98 percent of discretionary funding through 2016.

The discretionary funds total about $180 million in 2014, of which Pace will receive 2 percent.

Most of the revenues the three agencies receive come from fares and sales taxes that are divided by formulas. The discretionary funding is decided by the RTA.

The RTA went through the same ordeal last fall as Metra lobbied to receive more discretionary sales tax revenues, which are increasing as the economy improves. CTA leaders countered this broke with precedent and deprived them of much-needed cash.

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