CHICAGO – “The General Assembly is running short on time to pass a long-term funding plan for mass transit before the CTA and other transit agencies will take actions that hurt their riders in order to balance their budget.
“I’ve stated my position on many occasions that increasing the sales tax is the wrong approach.
“I know I’m not the only one who feels this way – both the Republican legislative leaders and Senate President Emil Jones have also expressed concern with the proposed sales tax increase.
“They’ve also expressed concern that increasing the CTA’s operational funding does nothing to address the CTA’s infrastructure needs – it’s no secret that buses, trains and tracks are in desperate need of repair. Without those fixes, commuter times are not going to improve.
“The three legislative leaders have also said that members of their caucuses from outside of the Chicago area are unwilling to support the funding to bail-out the CTA unless the downstate legislators’ communities will also get the funding they need to repair roads and bridges in their areas. Their message has been clear: address infrastructure and transit needs across the state at the same time we address mass transit needs in Chicago.
“That’s the reality of the legislative climate right now.
“And so if we are going to be able to help the CTA before the Sunday deadline they’ve set, it is imperative to embrace a plan that provides long-term transit funding and meets statewide infrastructure needs.
“A number of options have been raised and discussed among the Republican leaders, the Senate President and myself. The plan that I prefer would redirect – not increase – revenue from the existing sales tax on gas in Cook and the collar counties for the RTA. That’s money that is already collected from drivers who contribute to congested roads and air pollution in our region. It makes sense to dedicate that revenue to mass transit, and it also helps reduce congestion and air pollution.
“The remaining hole in the state budget can then be filled with revenue from an expansion of gaming in Illinois – an expansion that every one of the legislative leaders has already agreed needs to get done to fund a statewide infrastructure plan.
“If there are other options, I’m willing to hear them. But time is running out. We should not add to the tax frenzy working and middle class families are already facing. And we mustn’t turn our heads and ignore the importance of having a healthy and stable mass transit system in the Chicago area.
“This is all doable and immediately within our grasp if all four legislative leaders are as serious as I am about fixing mass transit in a way that doesn’t hurt taxpayers. That will be the focus of our meeting later today in Springfield, and I hope we can report progress tonight.”