Ill. (AP) — When he announced emergency funding for Chicago-area
mass-transit systems earlier this month, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he
simply was using money already set aside in the budget for
transportation projects.But that was true
only because his administration transferred funds from other
construction programs before revealing the bailout, state records show.
Of the $27 million Blagojevich provided to keep trains and buses
running, $22.4 million originally was going to pay for
bricks-and-mortar construction, highways and energy projects around the
Blagojevich announced the grant Nov. 2. Aides said it was “existing”
money borrowed by selling bonds for rail and mass transit projects.
Giving it to the Chicago Transit Authority and its suburban sister
would not delay construction elsewhere in the state, they said.
But no one seems to know whether that’s true.
Spokesmen for the Democratic governor have ignored repeated requests
from The Associated Press over the past three weeks for more details
about the source of the money and what projects have been set aside.
The money will last through mid-January while lawmakers work on a
long-term funding plan for the CTA and the Regional Transportation
Authority. The General Assembly continues work on the problem Wednesday
in a special session.
Lawmakers said the transfers are legal but complained Blagojevich
unilaterally took money from other needy projects to bail out Chicago.
“The money that was transferred in came from funds that would have
been appropriated throughout the state,” said Republican Sen. Christine
Radogno of Lemont. “Essentially, what we have is a statewide bailout
for the CTA.”
The $27 million technically is from a bond fund set up for mass
transit and aviation projects. But only $4.6 million was in that
account to start.
The day he announced the stopgap, Blagojevich transferred $10.2
million in bond money reserved for coal development and alternative
energy projects, $7.4 million for highway construction and $4.8 million
for general building projects.
Radogno knows of no plans by the administration to repay the money.
Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said governors may transfer funds if
there is extra available but he didn’t know how Blagojevich decided
there was excess in the affected accounts.
Rep. Dan Reitz, a Steeleville Democrat, said there’s plenty of work
to be done in highways, buildings and energy. He hopes lawmakers
replenish the funds.
“We just need to make sure we replace those and send them back to
their intended purposes, hopefully in the not-too-distant future,”
Metropolitan mass transit systems had run out of money and
threatened massive service cuts and fare hikes beginning Nov. 5.
Lawmakers were unable to agree on a long-term funding solution by the
time Blagojevich announced the grant.
The governor called this week’s special session. House Speaker
Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who unsuccessfully backed an
increase in the Chicago area’s sales tax, agreed Monday to a
compromise. The plan, which Blagojevich supports, would divert tax
receipts on gasoline sales in the area to transit.
But neither leader has offered a specific proposal to replace that $385 million.