IL: DuPage Chairman: CTA Labor, Pension Costs a Drag on Regional Transit System

April 30--DuPage County Board chairman Dan Cronin told a business lunch crowd in Chicago on Tuesday that the CTA's labor and employee pension costs are creating a huge drag on the entire region's public transit system, although he offered no specific remedies to curb expenses or help Metra and Pace.

"It's no secret that the CTA has monumental challenges to fund their pension obligations and labor costs. And frankly, with all due respect to (CTA president) Forrest Claypool and all those who are working tirelessly to get that under control, those costs really are crippling the entire system,'' Cronin said during an address downtown to the City Club of Chicago.

"There's been decades of unchecked (CTA) spending and waste that he, himself, has acknowledged,'' Cronin said, referring to Claypool.

CTA officials responded that state legislation on CTA pension reform that was approved in 2008, with the help of then-state Sen. Cronin's vote, mandated greater contributions from the CTA. Four years later, the CTA negotiated labor agreements that reduced costs.

Cronin said the distribution of discretionary funds by the Regional Transportation Authority is "an issue that sticks in my craw.'' After the recovery from the recession, more money has been made available for providing transit subsidies through increased sales tax revenue, yet the CTA receives almost all of the discretionary funds, Cronin lamented.

He pointed out that almost all of the nearly $200 million in discretionary funds that are "supposed to be equally available to all'' were approved for the CTA and that none went to Metra.

"Why does that matter to me so much, other than the fact that this occurred at a time while Metra is raising fares on the people I represent and Metra doesn't get one penny of discretionary funds?'' he said.

"It's got to change," Cronin added, pointing to projections that population growth in the suburbs by 2040 will far outstrip growth in Chicago.

CTA officials said the agency receives the bulk of discretionary funding because the state funding formula provides higher levels of tax subsidies for suburban transit. The CTA contends it receives only 49 percent of regional funding while providing 82 percent of the Chicago region's rides.

"The inequity in the state's flawed funding formula for transit explains why the CTA, for decades, has relied on the RTA's discretionary funding,'' CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.

Discretionary funding represents a small piece of the $1.5 billion in the CTA, Metra and Pace's annual transit funding, but an important component that makes up about 13 percent of CTA's annual operating budget, Steele said.

RTA officials said they had no response to the thrust of Cronin's remarks.

It wasn't the first time that Cronin has entered the debate over how the RTA allocates funding. He expressed concerns in 2012, telling the Tribune that the CTA "trying to pick the pockets of the suburbs is not the answer."

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch

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