Governor claims it’s a temporary move for difficult economic times – but doesn’t cut roads funds
Evidently, it’s not impressive enough to have a 9% increase in transit ridership over the last five years. You would think that facts like those would encourage the state to invest more in public transportation.
Rather, the Chicago Tribune reports today that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has put about $1 billion of transit projects, including $900 million in the Chicago region, on hold because of the state’s budget crisis. Transit agencies CTA, Metra, and Pace were ordered to stop committing money to new projects and even to stop planning. The funding had been announced by the governor just several weeks ago as a sort of mini-economic stimulus for the state, and it included funding for roads as well. But those highway projects have been spared, as Mr. Quinn has simply decided that only transit will suffer the consequences of the state’s financial issues.
The transit funds were expected to be used to finance capital repairs and new rolling stock. CTA was to use its $500 million to buy new hybrid buses and improve track conditions along the Red Line. Metra wants to buy new trains for its Electric Line, and Pace has allocated funds for new buses. That money is now being delayed by a state that is placing road construction ahead of transit in its priority list.
It’s too bad, too, because investing in transit is an effective recession fighter, providing good jobs to people working in construction and improving (and cheapening) the mobility of those who don’t have jobs. Investing today in capital expenses makes a whole lot of sense, too, because contracts have been coming in at far lower costs than just six months ago, meaning that government investments today can go a lot further than they could last year.
Chicago, like New York, is quite reliant on the state government to ensure funding for its transit agencies. There’s a strong mistrust between the city and downstate interests, which have often willfully neglected the needs for transit funding, as proven by the Chicago doomsday episodes of 2007. Then, the state only responded when the transit agencies threatened massive fare increases and service cuts (just as New York’s MTA is doing today). This action by Mr. Quinn, intentionally focusing on transit cutbacks, rather than spreading the budget problems all around to roads, suggests that the governor’s vision for the state is one in which he continues this seemingly permanent underfunding of transit.