AASHTO Journal, 20 February 2015
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner offered a fiscal 2016 budget that would increase money available for road construction by more than $120 million, but it would also cut funding for Chicago-area transit operations by more than that level and reduce state support for downstate transit and Amtrak passenger train service.
That is against a backdrop of a current-year budget shortfall of $1.6 billion, and a projected gap of about $6 billion for the budget year that starts July 1. Rauner, who took office Jan. 12, wants to close the gap without raising taxes.
In his detailed budget plan, Rauner cited cost savings at the Illinois Department of Transportation that helped free up funds for road work.
“Due to operational efficiencies taken in budgeting for the fiscal year 2016 recommended budget, the annual road construction element supported by the road and state construction fund is $1.85 billion, over a $120 million increase from fiscal year 2015,” the budget said. “This increase is an important first step in addressing the long-term quality of the statewide road and bridge system.”
However, he said in a speech to the Illinois legislature that “waste and inefficiency can be cut from the complex web that comprises our public transportation structure.”
“Statewide,” he continued, “our public transportation agencies spend billions of taxpayer dollars. Our budget reductions for the state’s largest transit agency amount to less than 5 percent of its overall budget, and here, too, the proposals in our turnaround agenda give our transportation entities the tools to save hundreds of millions of dollars. Reining in these costs allows us to minimize reductions in other areas of the budget.”
Rauner’s recommend transit budget says it “discontinues non-core programs that benefit only select areas. Operating subsidies and programs for specific local transit systems have been modified to be more affordable and sustainable, while continuing to deliver transportation services to commuters.”
Among the proposed cuts are $20 million out of the state’s $46 million operating subsidy for Amtrak passenger train service, plus reductions estimated at $127 million in the state matching support rate to the Chicago-area Regional Transportation Authority and $75 million to downstate transit operations. The budget proposes to hold state support steady for the RTA’s capital improvement bonds.