Transit sky 'not falling,' but proposed Rauner budget cuts tough, RTA says
Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed budget cuts could do serious damage to Metra, Pace and the CTA and lead to higher fares and service cuts, Regional Transit Authority leaders warned Thursday.
The reductions Rauner is recommending total about $170 million and include $130 million from the CTA, nearly $21 million from Metra and $10 million for Pace.
If the cuts are enacted, compensating for the hit could mean Metra might need to raise fares by an average of 6 percent, RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden said.
As further examples, losing $130 million could equal eliminating 10 weeks of bus service on the Chicago Transit Authority and decreasing Pace funds by $10 million could mean no suburban buses for three weeks, Redden said.
"We don't have a lot of tools in our toolbox," she added. "Our options are reduce service, cut service or increase fares."
"We're not saying the sky is falling ... but we're trying to lay out the numbers and what it means in terms of real human lives," RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard said.
Administrators stressed they recognized the financial hole the state is in and wanted to negotiate with Rauner.
"We're looking at all options," said Dillard, a former Hinsdale Republican senator who ran against Rauner in the 2014 primary.
"We have an excellent line of communication with Gov. Rauner and his staff. We'll work with them to find a solution to keep mass transit strong -- it's an economic engine for northeastern Illinois."
To bolster that line of communications, RTA board members approved hiring lobbyist Nancy Kimme. The former chief of staff for Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka was picked by Rauner to be one of his advisers while transitioning into the governor's office.
"Bringing her on board at this time will be helpful to our ongoing discussions," Redden said.
Kimme's $35,000 contract lasts through July.
The cuts could ultimately result in putting hundreds of thousands more drivers back on the road, RTA planners warned. Redden noted that transit agencies had made "prudent budget decisions in the past several years" with the CTA eliminating a $308 million structural deficit and Metra raising fares this February.
Not every board director was convinced the situation was so dire.
Board Director Donald Totten said he would "play devil's advocate," and asked "why not raise fares? We're crying wolf when we shouldn't be."
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the proposed state reductions represented a small portion of the RTA's revenues.
"The governor looks forward to working with the RTA to help them implement many of the reforms he has already proposed that will help reduce costs and provide greater value for taxpayers," Kelly said.