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Chicago Area Transit Officials Increasingly Anxious As State Budget Impasse Continues

(CBS) -- Chicago-area transit officials sound increasingly anxious over the inability to legislative leaders and the governor to reach agreement on a state budget.

The Regional Transportation Authority's board is poised to approve CTA, Metra and Pace budgets that make a huge assumption, that any budget agreement in Springfield will leave state transit funding untouched, at fiscal year 2015 levels.

It's a position that makes RTA board finance committee chair Dwight Magalis uncomfortable.

"This budget is subject to a lot of things that we can't control, but things that we will have to re-address if they're not lived up to by the state," he said.


He said he's doubtful there will be anything more definitive when the RTA board next meets Dec. 17 to approve agency budgets for the coming year.

Each agency cites the uncertainty over some form of state funding, either operating subsidies, capital or both, to be the biggest challenge facing them in the new year. Yet, so far, only Pace Deputy Executive Director Terry Brannon would stick his neck out at Thursday's RTA Finance committee hearing on agency budgets to say what would happen if expected state funding is slashed.

"We may have to take a look at the ADA (paratransit) fare if the state doesn't step up," he said.

Paratransit is mandated by federal law and the state has contributed toward costs until now. The FY 2015 level was $8.5 million, and there are questions as to whether the state will contribute anything in the new year. Pace, by federal law, can charge up to twice the regular fare.

Pace and Metra already plan small fare hikes for some of its riders. CTA Chief Financial Officer Tom McCone said the transit agency is looking for ways to economize, although a massive subsidy reduction would create a deficit that could not be eliminated merely by cost-cutting.

Still, he said, "Fares are the last thing that we want to look at."

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