SPRINGFIELD – Soon after both chambers of the General Assembly approved a long-term mass transit funding bill today, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich was joined by transit officials and state Rep. Julie Hamos as he announced his intention to act on the bill as soon as it is certified and sent to his desk. While the Governor has been clear in his opposition to increasing the sales tax to fund mass transit, he said today he will accept the approach passed by the General Assembly in House Bill 656 in order to avert devastating service cuts and fare increases, but will use his amendatory veto authority to make sure seniors citizens can use public transportation for free.
“I’ve said clearly and frequently that I don’t think raising the sales tax is the right way to help the CTA and other transit agencies. People already pay too much in taxes; I believe they should pay less, not more. Even though the increase in the bill passed by lawmakers is small, people will still feel an impact. Despite my public support for an alternative bill that would address the CTA’s long-term needs without increasing taxes, lawmakers did not send me that bill. In the spirit of compromise, and with a keen awareness of what is at stake for millions of transit riders if a long-term funding solution is not in place by January 20, I will act on the bill passed by the General Assembly as soon as it reaches my desk with one important improvement,” said Governor Blagojevich. “I’m particularly concerned about seniors who live on fixed incomes and who don’t have the ability to absorb a higher sales tax without making cuts in other areas. That’s why I will rewrite the bill to allow all senior citizens in Illinois to take public transportation for free.”
The Governor’s amendatory veto will require transit agencies statewide to allow senior citizens, aged 65 and older, to use main line and fixed route public transit service for free. A senior who uses public transportation twice a week could save $176 a year on CTA fares, $156 a year on Pace fares and $405 a year on Metra fares. There are approximately 1.3 million seniors living in communities across Illinois that have mass transit service.
HB 656 provides over $494 million in new, recurring funding for the Regional Transportation Authority, which includes the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace; and another $50 million for transit agencies in other parts of Illinois. With a long-term funding plan in place, the Chicago area transit agencies have said they will not cut services, raise fares or lay-off workers on January 20, as planned. The legislation also implements important pension and oversight reforms within the RTA.
As soon as the legislature sends HB 656 to the Governor, he will submit his amendatory veto to legislators for their approval.