Bill to end free rides for seniors blocked

State legislature passes limits on campaign donations
October 30, 2009 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.) Some lawmakers want to take away the benefit, claiming it costs the transit agencies $37 million each year. But, apparently, those lawmakers don't have the votes to cut the free rides for seniors.

A deal reached Thursday night fell through. So, for now, the perk remains.

"The program to save the free rides for seniors has been saved," said Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Democrat representing residents on Chicago's West Side.

Hendon was given and accepted the credit for stopping the effort to kill free rides for seniors.

As they have for the past two years, anyone over the age of 65 may continue to ride public transportation for free.

"The bill that would have eliminated free rides for seniors will not be called in the Illinois Senate," Hendon said.

Thursday night, the budget-challenged CTA, Pace and Metra companies agreed not to raise fares for two years, if the costly free rides program would be restricted only to the poorest seniors. But lawmakers-- many of whom are running for re-election-- said the CTA, especially, should find another ways to balance its budget.

"We're telling the CTA, 'Let's do something better than put this on the back of the seniors,'" said Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago.

Also Friday, the Senate passed and sent to the governor the bill that, for the first time in Illinois, limits individual campaign contributions at $5,000, unions and corporations at $10,000 and political action committees at $50,000.

"We got about 80 percent of what we wanted to get, and I consider that a huge step forward," said reform advocate George Rainney.

"Supporting this is doing nothing more than give authority to a few individuals who control party purse strings," Sen. Bill Brady said.

However, Senate Republicans called the reform bill a sham.

"The final deal was essentially cut only with the party in control," said Christine Radogno, Republican minority leader.

Republicans complain the reform bill does not limit contributions to individual lawmakers by legislative leaders, including the powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, who they say uses money to control the votes of his caucus.

Madigan insisted he is not the only politician who may spend without restrictions.

" There will be no restrictions on the amount of money spent for a candidate for governor," Madigan said. "Money coming in, there's restrictions. Money going out, there are no restrictions on spending."

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