Fracas over money leads to RTA gridlock
Old rivalries between the suburbs and Chicago erupted Friday as Regional Transportation Authority leaders feuded over who should get $6 million -- Pace, Metra or the CTA.
Squabbling gave way to gridlock and RTA directors failed to approve revenue allocations that the three transit agencies need to finalize their 2013 budgets.
RTA Chairman John S. Gates Jr., however, said he was "optimistic" some compromise can be reached before long, which will be important as the agencies need to hold public hearings on their budgets soon.
At issue is $184.8 million in "discretionary" funds. Most of the money the agencies get is determined by a state formula giving the CTA 56 percent, Metra 32 percent and Pace 12 percent of revenues. But the RTA can independently dole out what's known as discretionary revenues, although traditionally the CTA gets at least 95 percent.
For 2013, RTA staff recommended the CTA get 95 percent of the $184.8 million, or $175.8 million. That's a lower percentage than 2012's 98.3 percent but it's more money -- last year the CTA received $168.7 million. Pace and Metra would each get $4.5 million in 2013, according to the staff plan.
CTA President Forrest Claypool countered that the agency faces a $162 million deficit despite making significant cuts. With 22 million riders since last June, the CTA desperately needs 99 percent of the funding, he said.
RTA Director and former CTA Chairman Carole Brown concurred, saying, "the CTA can't run its system without the lion's share of discretionary funding. I'm uncomfortable about the erosion of funds."
But suburban Cook County Director John Frega disagreed. "It's wrong to keep hammering at Metra and Pace when they raised their rates," he said.
Eight suburban directors backed the staff proposal while six Chicago directors opposed, but 12 votes were needed for this financial item. A compromise by Director Pat Durante of Addison failed, also.
Gates said he expects to find some common ground in the next few weeks.
Pace officials said they had counted on the $4.5 million to help fund the transition to a universal fare system. "Without it, we may have a problem," Pace Executive Director T.J. Ross said.
Ironically, the friction occurs as the agencies have more money to spend than in previous lean years when sales tax revenues were pitiful. It also coincides with the appointment of new board directors by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The delay puts the RTA in violation of state statute. RTA attorneys said the agency should be fine when Durante asked jokingly if one board director would be "taken away in handcuffs."