Tag Archives: rta

Statewide update—March 21, 2010

Chicago Sun-TimesMcHenry County State’s Attorney Bianchi’s misconduct trial begins Monday, “The twice-elected Republican is standing trial on 21 felony charges alleging he ordered employees to do political work for him during office hours while they were supposed to be carrying out their official duties.”

  • Daily HeraldState investigating Oak Brook mayor’s full-time job, “In addition to serving as the part-time village president of Oak Brook, John Craig has a full-time job with the state that pays $64,000 a year.  But a government watchdog now is trying to find out whether Craig, 76, is putting in a full day’s work on his job with the secretary of state’s office.”
  • Daily HeraldRTA aims to put Metra, Pace, CTA on same track, “The Regional Transportation Authority laid out long-term plans Thursday to meld service and operations at its three transit agencies, in proposals ranging from implementing a universal fare card to unifying lobbying efforts.”
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Sorry, Seniors — We Were All Taken For A Ride

By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

Photo courtesy Salim Virji/Flickr

The BGA loves seniors. In fact, some of us watchdogs wear the gray mantle proudly.

But the old saying that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” actually rings true in this daunting and sometimes frightening era of massive government deficits, bloated bureaucracies, unaffordable services and benefits, and intolerable patronage. So the BGA is proud to have waged a successful campaign to eliminate the unaffordable aspects of the “Seniors Ride Free” transit program. The freebie was an ill-advised political stunt by our disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich, and it proved to be a mismanaged, abuse-ridden boondoggle, as we demonstrated in an investigative series with FOX Chicago News that we titled “Riding While Dead.” More than a third of the free rides were taken by seniors with incomes above $55,000 a year, at a time when the state is billions of dollars in the red.

So we applaud the Illinois lawmakers who followed our stories and approved legislation that restricts the program to the neediest seniors, those taking home less than $25,000 a year. And we appreciate Gov. Pat Quinn signing a measure he opposed until recently. There are, sadly, still far too many “free lunches” permeating government. That’s a big part of the public sector fiscal crisis. Ending free rides for seniors won’t end the free lunch mentality, but it’ll take a few fries off the plate. Now we’ll go after the budget-busting burgers.

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Statewide Update—Jan. 24, 2011

  • Southtown Star—Worker’s compensation reform could delay borrowing, “Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) would consider it a “positive side benefit” if progress on worker’s comp makes Republicans more willing to consider borrowing money to pay bills, said spokesman John Patterson.”
  • Chicago Tribune—Plan would charge state retirees more for health care, “The new push is a crackdown on the rising cost of health care for retired state workers. The program costs the state nearly $500 million a year, and more than 90 percent of the retirees and survivors pay no premiums.”
  • State Journal-Register—Top aide leaving attorney general’s office, “Besides being deputy chief of staff for Madigan, Smith has served as the attorney general’s public access counselor for a year, since changes to the state Freedom of Information Act took effect that were aimed at increasing government transparency.”
  • Chicago Tribune—Editorial: Curb free rides, “Free rides, of course, aren’t free. The Regional Transportation Authority estimates they cost the transit system $38.5 million in 2009.”
  • State Journal-Register—Opinion: There’s a reason recall process is convoluted, “…it could be used to oust someone just because they made an unpopular decision. Trying to avoid that is one reason the recall process now part of the state constitution is as convoluted as it is.”

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Statewide Update—Jan. 19, 2011

  • Chicago Sun-Times—Preckwinkle warns: Cut Cook County budget—or I will, “Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued a warning Tuesday to Sheriff Tom Dart and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez — and anyone else balking at the looming budget cuts: help her swing the budget ax, or she’ll propose the cuts herself.”
  • Daily Herald—RTA awaits word on end of free rides for seniors, “The Regional Transportation Authority has had no word on whether Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill to limit free rides for senior citizens, but nevertheless is trying to calculate the revenue boost the agency would get if it does become law.”
  • Daily Herald—Des Plaines may update water meters, resulting in rate hike, “Des Plaines residents may see a rise in water rates starting next year if officials decide to eventually replace the city’s roughly 13,000 analog water meters with a new digital automated meter reading system.”
  • Southtown Star—Kaupas names cousin deputy police chief, “Kaupas, who is the second cousin of Sheriff Paul Kaupas, was hired as the spokesman in December at a salary of $75,000. He said he will perform the duties of both positions, replacing two people who retired, at a net savings to the sheriff’s department.”

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Chicagoland Transit Agencies on Track for Gov’t-Approved Watchdog

Amid the confusion and chaos of this week’s legislative session in Springfield, the House and Senate passed a groundbreaking bill targeting the fraud, waste and corruption that plagues the Chicago area’s mass transit systems.

The bill’s supporters expect the Governor to approve the measure.

The Better Government Association has been working with Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest), good-government advocates and the RTA to craft legislation that creates an independent inspector general for the transit agency that oversees the RTA, Metra, PACE and CTA.

The resulting bill, Senate Bill 3964, was co-sponsored by Sen. Garret and Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), and creates an independent inspector general to oversee the boards and employees at RTA, Metra, PACE, and CTA.

The inspector general will be housed in the Office of the Executive Inspector General, which already oversees the activities of the Governor’s office and its agencies.

Sen. Garrett has been working on the legislation with leaders at the transit agencies since last spring when news reports emerged detailing how Metra’s Executive Director Phil Pagano gave himself unapproved payouts on future vacation time. The unauthorized payout of $56,000 came on top of his salary of more than $250,000.

Ultimately, questions surrounding Pagano’s actions lead to his suspension. In May 2010, Pagano, 60, was found dead of an apparent suicide.

The BGA is committed to eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse of public resources. This legislation is an important step toward making the Chicago area’s mass transit systems more open and accountable.

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Free Rides for Seniors Should Not Be State Lawmakers’ Third Rail

Caution: RTA's 'Seniors Ride Free' program a model of inefficiency (Rene S/Flickr)

Illinois’ “Seniors Ride Free” program has never enjoyed a comfortable commute.

Spawned by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the effort has long been viewed by critics—including those running the state’s transit systems—as an expensive and inequitable gift to elderly riders, many of whom can often afford to pay their own fares.

In fact, a recent University of Illinois study found that one-third of those who take advantage of the program earn more than $50,000 annually.

But now there’s something else to worry about: abuse of the “Seniors Ride Free” program.

A BGA investigation with Fox Chicago News documents widespread misuse and abuse of the senior free pass system in the Chicago area. The problem is costing the taxpayer-supported RTA, which oversees the CTA, Pace and Metra, untold millions of dollars.

And the difficulties don’t end at the border of the Chicago-area transit system. The “seniors ride free” program runs throughout Illinois.

So far, Gov. Pat Quinn and a majority of state lawmakers have not been willing to scrap free rides for seniors. They fear being zapped by the political consequences of reforming, or scuttling, the program.

But considering the results of the BGA/Fox investigation, the time is ripe for state lawmakers to take a long, hard look at this transit perk.

Among the options to ponder:

  • ending the program immediately;
  • instituting “means” testing to weed out higher income riders; or
  • setting a sunset date for the program’s expiration.

Some lawmakers have proposed the free-ride plan become a key part of a larger state financial reform package that includes deep budget cuts and revenue increases, such as an income tax hike.

There’s no signal yet that lawmakers will deal with these dire financial issues when they get back under the Capitol Dome next month for another legislative session.

But at the very least, necessary legislative reform of the bumpy “Seniors Ride Free” program should be on their agenda.

What do you think? Contact your State Lawmaker by using this link, or add a comment below.

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