Metra says new lobbyist contracts are worth the $2.7 million

Metra directors approved about $2.7 million in state and federal lobbyist contracts with six firms over a five-year period Wednesday.

"Absolutely we get our money's worth," Executive Director Don Orseno said.

He noted that Metra was awarded $20 million recently for an automatic train braking system as part of a federal grant program included in a transportation bill.

Such grant programs "don't just happen on their own," Orseno said.

Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority are owed millions by the state of Illinois, which hasn't had a budget in two years amid political gridlock.

"At some point in time, the state's going to come out with a budget and there will be a capital bill. Do you want to start all your work at that point in time? Or make sure all your needs are known?" Orseno asked.

The five-year contracts can be canceled at any time and now offer stability, he said.

Firms and amounts include: Capricorn Communications owned by former U.S. Rep. William Lipinski for $255,000; Chambers, Conlon and Hartwell, which includes former congressional staffers for $1.3 million; Cullen & Associates for $255,000; Raucci & Sullivan Strategies for $301,749; McGuire Woods Consulting for $367,710; and O'Connell & O'Shea Legislative Advocacy and Counseling for $259,233.

Orseno, who is retiring later this year, also said the agency is continuing to interview candidates to replace him that include internal and external applicants. An announcement could come in September.

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