Transportation funding bill fails in state House

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to reporters outside his office at the Illinois State Capitol on Wednesday. Lawmakers are back at the Capitol but a solution for mass transit and construction projects remains unclear. Seth Perlman, The Associated Press

AP

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to reporters outside his office at the Illinois State Capitol on Wednesday. Lawmakers are back at the Capitol but a solution for mass transit and construction projects remains unclear. Seth Perlman, The Associated Press

By Jonathan Jacobson

A failed bill in the House was the only product of a special legislative session called Wednesday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to address funding for Chicago’s beleaguered mass-transit system.

But most Illinoisans don’t live in Chicago, and some downstate representatives were critical of the proposal, which would have diverted $440 million in gas taxes collected from Cook County and its five bordering counties to bail out the transit system.

Downstate legislators claimed that the money, which previously went to general funds that paid for a vast range of state expenses, was being shifted from the pot of the many to the pockets of the few.

“There’s no doubt that it would take away from other projects,” state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford, said.

Frerichs said that downstate senators’ priorities lie in pushing for a capital bill to fund projects throughout the state.

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He also criticized the gas tax as a revenue source for the CTA, because it would have required an annual renewal of the Legislature’s commitment.

“They need a dedicated revenue source to fix that structural deficit,” Frerichs said. He suggested an increased sales tax to be split among the six counties as a potential solution.

Earlier this month, Blagojevich plugged the holes of the CTA with a $27 million grant that some representatives believe also came at the expense of the rest of Illinois.

“The money that was transferred in came from funds that would have been appropriated throughout the state,” state Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, told The Associated Press, Wednesday.

“Essentially, what we have is a statewide bailout for the CTA,” she said.

Even if it had passed the House, Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune he would not have called a vote on a mass-transit funding proposal.

Jones said he would support a proposal only if the $440 million gap would be filled with other revenue. Specifically, he said he would like to see a statewide construction package funded by an expansion of gambling.

Jones said lawmakers have been linking mass transit and capital construction programs for years.

“They go hand in hand, and if our downstate members are saying they’re not going to vote for anything to aid mass transit unless they have a capital bill,” then that is in line with their beliefs from earlier this year, he said.

Frerichs said he was tired of the record number of special legislative sessions, which Blagojevich has now called 17 times.

“I don’t mind coming to Springfield if there’s a bill and I don’t mind coming back to solve our problems,” he said. “I do mind coming back just so we can shift the blame and point fingers. That is unproductive.”