Committee recommends transit bill to full house

Changes still possible
January 16, 2008 8:59:49 PM PST
An Illinois House committee has forwarded on the governor's transit plan, which allows senior citizens to ride public transit free.But it's not without criticism. The amended bill passed the committee 16-5. Senate president Emil Jones, (D) Chicago, has already pledged his support when it reaches the senate.

Some lawmakers are angry Governor Rod Blagojevich added the provision so late in the game. The legislatures had been deadlocked on the issue for months.

Sunday is the deadline for more public transit funding or the public will see fare increases and service cuts in place on Pace, Metra and the CTA. A vote is expected on Thursday.

However, the newest wrinkle to the high stakes debate is that legislators may try to amend the governor's amendatory veto with a trailer bill. That trailer bill would use income as a means to determine which seniors could ride mass transit for free.

"I know some people are mad at the governor. I know other people would like to change the policy. I know still others would wish he had done it differently. None of that matters today. The only thing that matters is moving along," said State Rep. Julie Hamos, (D) Chicago.

Crowds packed Wednesday's hearing before the House Mass Transit Committee - many of whose members are furious with the governor over his seniors ride free amendatory veto, a move they consider to be poorly thought out political grandstanding.

"I haven't had one call or one letter or one person in a public meeting who supports this initiative. I'm going to vote for it because it's more important that the trains and buses keep running," said State Rep. Greg Harris, (D) Chicago.

Some Democrats - like State Rep John Fritchey, who supported the transit funding bill - are now considering withdrawing their support because of the Governor's move.

"I want to keep the buses running, but at a certain point you have to say enough is enough and I may be getting near that point," said Fritchey, (D) Chicago.

"The partners in large law firms of the city of Chicago shouldn't be getting free rides from the North Shore to Chicago on weekends or during the day. There should be a means test," said State Rep. Jim Durkin, (D) LaGrange.

While the details of that proposed change have yet to be fully worked out, riders and frustrated transit officials said Wednesday afternoon that the funding bill needs to be passed.

"Deal with it as promptly as possible. I worry about getting to work to provide for myself," said one public transit rider.

"I'm not managing a transit system right now because I'm spending too much time in Springfield. Let's move forward and get this done," said Steve Schlickman, RTA exec. dir.

The main concern is beating the midnight on January 20 deadline. If legislators make changes to the governor's amendatory veto, then both the Illinois House and Senate -- and the governor -- have to be onboard. The governor has not said if he would be onboard with the trailer bill.

Governor Blagojevich issued a statement saying he never supported sales tax increases to pay for mass transit, but he believes the free rides for seniors makes it a better bill. He applauded the committee vote and is urging the full legislature to pass the bill Thursday.