CTA bailout plan stalls

House Speaker rejects suggestion to divert gasoline taxes

News Gatehouse News Service October 25, 2007
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Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan rejected a proposal Oct. 23 to divert a share of state gasoline taxes to Chicago’s mass-transit systems.

Madigan said he still prefers a regional sales tax hike to prevent service cuts and fare hikes planned for early November.

Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, said he will not link a transit bailout with a capital-construction program, as some Republican lawmakers have insisted. A Senate-approved bill would fund schools, roads and bridges with three new casinos, including one for Chicago.

House Republican leader Tom Cross has expressed his desire to tie the CTA to gambling expansion for a public works program.

"I have and I will talk with Rep. Cross and others regarding casino legislation, but I'm not going to hold hostage transit riders for casinos," Madigan said after a three-hour meeting with Cross and other lawmakers Oct. 23.

Madigan’s statements call into question whether he and the three other legislative leaders and Gov. Rod Blagojevich can reach agreements on transit funding and a gambling-fueled capital program. The cash-strapped Chicago Transit Authority, which faced a budget shortfall this year of over $100 million, plans to begin phasing in “doomsday” cutbacks and fare increases Nov. 4, with more severe measures set for January.

Cross, along with Blagojevich, does not support Madigan-backed legislation that would increase (by 0.25%) the Chicago-area sales tax that helps finance mass transit. Cross suggested an alternative idea that would give the CTA and its sister transit agencies, Metra and Pace, annual infusions from the state sales tax on gasoline that is sold in Cook County and the collar counties.

The strategy, however, would shift hundreds of millions of dollars from state coffers. Cross said the gap could be closed through a combination of taking money from special-purpose funds and increasing state fees on items such as car titles. He also advocated a “reasonable” transit fare increase of 10% or 15%.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said the governor supports the proposed gasoline tax diversion but is cautious about how to offset the transfer. She said the governor does not want to raise taxes on working families.

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