Pyke: What local legislators say about transit cuts

If you're a Republican state lawmaker whose voters depend on Metra to get to work, can you defend a budget that cuts public transit?

And if you're a Democrat from the suburbs, can you pooh-pooh a budget that gives $120 million more to roads?

We asked three suburban lawmakers who know transportation their opinions on Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget proposal that seeks to reduce state funding for Metra, Pace and the CTA by 10 percent.

"There's no question it's going to be a challenge for transit," Republican state Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights said. Metra just had a fare increase, he noted, and formed its budget with an expectation of getting a certain amount from the state.

"If that's reduced, there's no question it will put some pressure on them. Do they have the efficiencies in their operation to handle that reduction? I don't have an answer," Harris said.

Republican state Sen. Karen McConnaughay of St. Charles called the budget a painful dose of reality given the state's bad financial shape.

"I hope Metra, like any other agency, will look at trying to find other ways to rein in spending without resorting to increased fares or taxation," she said.

Rauner also recommended eliminating about $8.5 million from paratransit, the ride service Pace provides to disabled individuals.

Northbrook Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz pointed out that paratransit is a federally mandated service. "If we cut paratransit funding, either the federal government will come in and tell us we have to do this or have to make service cuts elsewhere. It's robbing Peter to pay Paul," she said.

One winner is the Illinois Department of Transportation, which will get about $120 million more for roads.

The extra is "helpful, but it's not a lot of money in terms of what roads and bridges need in Illinois," said Harris.

Nekritz thinks "certainly our infrastructure needs updating, and I'm not going to knock any additional money to repair and maintain our roads." But "these competing demands to cut paratransit and increase road (funding) seem to be making our most vulnerable citizens pay."

Meanwhile, McConnaughay said Rauner "looks at that as a way to stimulate the economy to increase job creation."

What's next?

With no money left in Illinois' multiyear capital program, Harris predicts Rauner will pull a new one out of his hat this spring.

And how will Illinois pay for that? "Everyone's looking at the gas tax," Harris said. Last week, Harris introduced a bill eliminating the sales tax on gas and increasing the current per-gallon fee from 19 cents to 35 cents.

Your voice

My series on distracted driving got Rolling Meadows reader Mike Brown's attention. "I was involved in a car accident two years ago with an idiot that was texting while driving 40 mph and he ran a red light," Brown wrote.

"Fortunately I saw him out of the corner of my eye and yelled at the driver of my car to stop! We ended up skidding into him and hit him broadside.

"I have been on a mission since that day to get law enforcement to enforce the texting while driving laws! If they created a fine system that was painful enough, they could either end the state's financial woes immediately or end driving while texting or talking! It gives me road rage when I see idiots on the expressways driving 70 mph and texting! They should start the first offense at $250 and increase it by $250 for every subsequent offense."

Got an opinion on distracted driving? The governor's budget and transportation? Drop me an email at

One more thing

Young drivers are among the highest risks for texting-related crashes, so hats off to a group of Northwest suburban teens who formed the Just Hang It Up Youth Board, which promotes safe driving. Rolling Meadows High School sophomore Juliana Leone stows her phone in her purse in the back seat to avoid temptation, but she's in the minority. "I talk to people at school and they say, 'Yeah, I text and drive,'" Leone told me. The group is fundraising to buy a simulator that mimics a distracted driving experience. They plan to share with schools and community groups across the region. "The students decided that a simulator would be more convincing than videos, graphic pics and statistics," adviser and Arlington Heights pediatrician David Brottman said. You can find out more on their Facebook page.

Gridlock alert

Watch for lane closures and delays on the north Tri-State near Gurnee as the Illinois tollway restarts work on the Grand Avenue interchange.

Karen McConnaughay
Elaine Nekritz
Will Illinois look to increase gas taxes as other states have done?

Gas tax time?

Could this be the end of cheap Michigan gas? And will Illinois jump on the bandwagon with gas prices at a low? Twelve states are considering raising gas taxes to pay for transportation and other infrastructure, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. Iowa last week finalized a 10-cent increase per gallon. Meanwhile, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington state are pondering either a per-gallon or sales tax hike, the association reported.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.