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Bills aimed at mass transit boards in House, Senate

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 12:14 p.m. CDT

Bills aimed at reforming Chicago-area mass transit boards, and eliminating one outright, are working their way through the General Assembly.

House Bill 140, which cleared last Friday on a 106-0 vote, seeks to strip health insurance and pension benefits from future appointees to the Regional Transportation Authority, Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority.

The bill is now in the Senate, which could vote as early as today on a bill aimed at merging the RTA with the lesser-known Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. 

The original language of House Bill 140 also stripped appointees of their salaries, but was subsequently amended as a compromise measure, said bill sponsor Jack Franks, D-Marengo. 

Franks is one of several lawmakers who have sought greater scrutiny over mass transit boards in the wake of the 2010 scandal surrounding former Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano. Pagano stepped in front of a Metra train before he was about to be fired for taking more than $475,000 in unauthorized vacation payouts.

“The big thing I really wanted to get rid of was the benefits – health care and pensions. Those are payments due full-time employees. That was the most egregious thing I was working on,” Franks said. “The cherry on the sundae would have been having them lose their salaries, but I was worried that if I had that on there, it would have gotten shot down in the Senate.”

Local Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, is carrying Franks’ bill in the Senate.

A member of the RTA board gets $25,000 a year, while a CTA board member gets $20,000, a Metra board member gets $15,000, and a Pace member gets $10,000. The CMAP board is uncompensated.

The House last month passed a bill aimed at scaling back the pensions of teachers, state lawmakers, state employees and university teachers in an effort to get a grasp on a $96 billion unfunded pension liability.

House Bill 140 only targets new appointees, not existing members.

Senate Bill 1594 seeks to merge the 15-member CMAP board and the 16-member RTA board into an 18-member, unpaid entity that would have a goal to double mass-transit use in 25 years. 

The bill seeks to eliminate what it calls “unnecessary and duplicative functions” between the agencies to “ensure that transit services are fast, well-maintained, efficient, convenient, safe and attractive.”

However, many governments in the collar counties oppose the merger, alleging that it would give Chicago an even greater voice with which to swallow up tax revenue slated for mass transit.

The term of McHenry County RTA representative Al Jourdan expired April 1, but County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill said the reappointment process would not begin until the RTA’s legislative fate is decided.

The county’s representative on the Metra board, Jack Schaffer, said he does not intend to seek reappointment. His term expires June 30, 2014, as does the term of county Pace Board representative and Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley.

What it means

Two bills aimed at Chicago-area mass transit boards are moving through the General Assembly:

• House Bill 140, which cleared the House last week and is headed to the Senate, seeks to strip the salaries, pensions and other benefits of members of the Regional Transportation Authority, Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority.

• A full Senate vote could come today on Senate Bill 1594, which seeks to merge the RTA and the lesser-known Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning into one group.

SOURCE: Illinois General Assembly

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