Pritzker promises transit fix, talks migrant housing and praises Biden at forum

The state and other stakeholders will resolve a looming $730 million annual shortfall facing Metra, Pace and the CTA in 2026, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday.

The funding gap emerged after COVID-19 decimated ridership. It's an issue transit agencies across the U.S. are facing, Pritzker said at a Crain's event.

"We need subways and trains and buses and it's vital to our economy. We're going to do whatever is necessary," said Pritzker, who also mentioned fares but without specifics.

"The General Assembly and I and the federal government, we all have to address it," he noted.

The governor also discussed Illinois' economy, security at the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, President Joe Biden's age and the migrant crisis.

Thousands of asylum-seekers, many dispatched in buses by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, are continuing to arrive in Chicago, taxing the city's resources.

With myriad migrants staying at O'Hare International Airport and police stations, Pritzker announced Monday construction is starting on two new shelters in Chicago neighborhoods that can accommodate up to 2,200 people.

The issue is "how to manage what is a humanitarian crisis as you're heading toward potentially a very cold winter," he said.

"This is a bipartisan problem ... the challenge of immigration. There ought to be comprehensive immigration reform, there needs to be border security, too. And those things together - it seems like you could get agreement across two parties (in Congress). It hasn't happened," Pritzker said.

The federal government has authorized about 11,000 asylum-seekers to receive work authorizations, Pritzker said. "Once they get work, they will need a lot less services and shelter."

The governor, who has been rumored as a possible presidential candidate, defended Biden, 81, against criticisms he is too old to run for a second term.

"I've spent a lot of time personally with him now, and I can tell you - the man is on it," Pritzker said. "He is managing several crises internationally every day. He has done more in three years than most presidents do in eight. Anybody who says he is not up to the job is wrong."

Biden will be in Chicago this August for the Democratic National Convention.

Regarding concerns about violent crime in Chicago and safety at the convention, Pritzker said shootings and murders have come down significantly in the city.

"The city is going to be secure, there's no doubt about it. Every level of law enforcement is on the ground already here planning for that convention. Between Secret Service, FBI, local law enforcement, county, state, everybody is working together and they've got real strategic plans for managing what is always a target for terrorism all the way down to crime."

The governor also touted a recent United Auto Workers strike settlement with Stellantis that included the reopening of the shuttered Belvidere plant to manufacture electric vehicles.

But the "big surprise" was that Stellantis is likely locating a battery production center there also, Pritzker said.

Details are still being worked out, including state incentives, but "this is $5 billion of investments, this is thousands of jobs ... maybe 3,000-plus jobs in Belvidere," Pritzker said.

$160 million allotted for aid to migrants in Chicago

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