Transit could lose millions under Rauner budget
Cuts in state funding to public transit will hurt Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority, officials warned, with some cautioning fare hikes could be on the table.
In his 2016 budget address, Gov. Bruce Rauner Wednesday described how bad decisions in the past would require reforms and sacrifices to wipe out a massive state debt.
"Waste and inefficiency can be cut from the complex web that comprises our public transportation structure," Rauner said. "Statewide, our public transportation agencies spend billions of taxpayer dollars."
Details are still evolving. but it appears the hit to the Regional Transportation Authority's budget would be about 4.4 percent or $127 million. The RTA passes on state revenues to Metra, Pace and the CTA.
RTA, Metra, Pace and CTA administrators all said they needed more time to review budget specifics and would work with the governor and lawmakers in the coming weeks.
"We're very concerned about the scale of the proposal," Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said. "At this point, we can't rule out any budget solution relative to service levels, fares or our employees. With that said, we have to remain aware that this is the beginning of the state's budget process."
As for Metra, "there will be an impact to our 2015 and/or our 2016 budgets, but until we have more information about how the proposed cuts would be distributed, we cannot speculate about what that impact will be," spokesman Michael Gillis said.
CTA administrators in a statement predicted a dramatic hit to their bottom line, noting "the proposed cuts would represent a more than 7 percent cut in CTA's budget, which could potentially impact our ability to provide essential public transit services.
"Our preliminary analysis shows that the proposed transit-funding cuts of more than $105 million would have a significant negative impact on CTA's operating budget," CTA officials said in a statement. They also criticized a proposal to eliminate a $28 million reimbursement for free and reduced-fare rides for seniors and riders with disabilities, saying it would "place a further burden on a state-mandated program that is already woefully underfunded."
RTA Director Leanne Redden commented that "the cuts described today could slow the important and excellent progress the region's transit operators are making to improve operations for the businesses and people of Illinois who depend on the economic engine our transit system provides."
"These proposed cuts represent a significant decrease in the 2015 operating budget that funds CTA, Metra and Pace, who provide 2 million passenger trips each work day."
Rauner, however, pointed out that his cuts "for the state's largest transit agency amount to less than 5 percent of its overall budget."
"I am not surprised and in fact expected that the governor might cut the RTA because Illinois has been so generous over the years in funding both the RTA operating and capital budgets from general revenues compared to other heavily dependent transit states," said Steve Schlickman, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center.
"Still such a cut will ensure fare increase and service cuts for the system which is not good for the lower-income, transit-dependent users. Nor is it good for the region's economy."
Amtrak also will lose about $20 million in subsidies under the plan.