Friday, September 14, 2007

Tribune editorial on the CTA story...

The continuing saga about the mess that the CTA is in right now. To start earlier this week the Governor of Illinois is proposing giving some more money to the CTA (or actually the RTA and they still have to approve it and all the money isn't going to the CTA, but most of it will) in hopes that there will still be an agreement that will allow the CTA more funding and in hopes that they will avoid making the service cuts and fare increases that are scheduled to be made in November. The CTA was all set to make these cuts in increases by next week, but with the promise of new money they've agreed to hold out.

Anyway let's see what the Tribune has to say...
Will Monday's commute be just another rush hour, or an even bigger mess than usual? That's the tough choice facing the Regional Transportation Authority, which will decide Friday whether to approve Gov. Rod Blagojevich's offer to let the Chicago Transit Authority borrow $24 million of its own money to keep the buses running awhile longer.

Without that money, the CTA will cut 39 bus routes, lay off more than 600 workers and increase fares by as much as $1. Riders will have to leave home earlier and pay more to cram into what's left of the public transportation system -- or give up and drive. Blagojevich also offered to advance $6 million for Pace and Metra, and to free up the entire $54 million paratransit subsidy for 2008, to ensure that suburban riders can get to work.

So the governor's offer is tempting. But the responsible answer for the RTA is to say no. Fronting next year's money to the CTA now would be irresponsible.

The money -- an advance against the CTA's 2008 funding -- would allow the system to keep running until Nov. 4. But if a funding deal isn't approved by then, the CTA will have to make even deeper cuts for the rest of 2007 and will begin its 2008 fiscal year with $24 million already spent.

The governor is asking the RTA to gamble that lawmakers can pass a transit bill before November. But don't count on him to lift a finger to help. Remember, Blagojevich and the legislative leaders have known this moment was coming for 11 months but haven't resolved it in all that time.
Well here's a bit more into this crisis...
The CTA began its 2007 budget year with a $110 million deficit and a plea for help from the General Assembly -- not for another one-time bailout, but a long-term funding solution. Absent that help, the CTA planned to make ends meet by cutting $38 million from its budget, spending its last unobligated capital dollars on operations, raising fares and cutting service. The fare increases and service cuts wouldn't be necessary, CTA officials said, if lawmakers could please get the job done by Sept. 16. They can't.

One reason is that Blagojevich has promised to veto any transit funding proposal that isn't built around his half-baked plan to finance transit by closing "corporate loopholes." His position hasn't changed, and that alone is reason to reject his $24 million band-aid.

The CTA has been living beyond its means since at least 2001. That's the last time it didn't have to beg the legislature for more money to make ends meet. Since 2003, the CTA has been spending capital dollars on operations; in 2006 it started redirecting maintenance money too.

Those stopgap measures allowed the CTA, the General Assembly and the public to duck reality for far too long. The result? The CTA cut corners on maintenance and inspections, contributing to a 2006 derailment that injured 150 passengers, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded this week.

The agency's cash reserves were so low that it could cover only two weeks of expenses, the Illinois auditor general reported in March. Nearly a third of the bus fleet is older than 16 years -- four years past the recommended life span. The retiree health-care fund will be exhausted this year, forcing the CTA to pay those costs -- up to $70 million a year -- from its operating budget. The employee pension fund is projected to run dry by 2012. And the CTA still doesn't have enough money to maintain current service.
The basic gist of this editorial is that the governor and the general assembly is to blame for why the CTA is forced to increase fares and cut service. Not the RTA and I suppose we can blame the CTA for not managing there money. For so long the CTA seemed to be doing alright, but now they slipped back into some of the bad habits of the past.

For a while back in the 1990s it seemed that all city agencies were operationg with a budget deficit. I'm sure it happens with the best of them no matter what you do. Still it was the CTA once upon a time, then it was the public schools with budget deficits. Headline news almost all the time at one point in time.

It hasn't change I guess. I saw Arne Duncan, CEO of the public school campaigning for more money. Now the CTA is struggling to maintain their operations. I can at least say for the CTA, it's a matter of mismanagement and the state government isn't doing much to provide some form of oversight.

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