Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Extended extended session extended

As expected the extended session of the General Assembly has been extended to Tuesday, April 18th, to allow more time to develop the 2007 budget.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Extended session likely to be extended

Budget negotiations continue to drag on. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones continue to meet with members to identify budget priorities in a lean budget considerably smaller than the one billion dollars of new spending proposed by the Governor.

The Governor's "jobs bill" appears dead lacking the supermajority vote needed to pass a capital budget bill. Republican members of both the House and Senate will not vote for a capital bill prior to the November general election. The Governor proposed a 3.4 billion dollar capital construction bill for roads, school construction and other infrastructure improvements that, according to Guv, would produce over 200 thousand new jobs.

Widly rumored that the budget would not be complete by Wednesday, April 12th. The rumors suggest that the House and Senate will adjourn Wednesday for the Passover and Easter holidays and return Monday, April 17th to finalize the '07 budget.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Session fails to appove budget

Members of the Illinois House of Representatives were sent home for the weekend while the 2007 budget is prepared for consideration next week.

The Governor finally showed up in Springfield this week to meet with Democratic House and Senate leaders to discuss the '07 budget. Members left Springfield today with the House scheduled to return at 4:00 p.m., Monday, April 12th.

The House Democrats have refused to consider 1 billions dollars in new spending proposed by the Governor in his annual budget address. The Governor's spending spree was considered frivolous considering that new revenues are predicted to be only $220 million. In addition, the Governor's so called "Jobs Bill" is considered dead because of the lack of resources to pay for the proposed capital spending of 3 to 4 billion dollars.

What's the best way to judge transit performance?

Illinoiz - April 6, 2006 - posted by Dan Johnson-Weinberger

Mass transit systems (the CTA, Metra and Pace, not to mention the dozen or so other mass transit agencies in Illinois) are just about out of money. They aren't making a big stink about it like they did in 2005 (and they were remarkably successful at framing the entire debate over the state budget, at least in Chicago, where the headlines after the budget was passed in 2005 read: CTA won't shut down), but they are broke.Why are they broke?

The federal government has money to pay for the invasion and occupation of Iraq for years to come, but no money to help cover the cost of buses and trains. As of 1993, the feds stopped paying for any operating support for mass transit. That was a dumb idea. But, what can you do?They are also broke because the source of their income -- the local sales tax -- is not rising. As you savvy Internet readers go buy things online, you dodge the local sales tax. And, as we move more towards a service and tourism economy, the sales tax (which is for the sale of goods, not services) generates fewer dollars. Ridership is up all over the place, but fares only cover half the cost of the service, and the taxes (the local sales tax) that supports mass transit is flat or shrinking.We should raise the tax on gasoline or parking so that people who drive pay more of the cost of transit, since really, fares on the CTA or Pace or Metra should be a lot closer to free than they are, as every rider on transit makes life better for everyone else, while every additional driver makes life a little more congested and thus a little worse for everyone else. Ideally, drivers would pay a lot more, and riders, well, maybe they'd even get paid a little something for making life better for everyone else. Or at least they'd ride for free.

Illinois took a good step in that direction in the late 90s with Illinois FIRST, a big capital bond that paid for a lot of CTA capital needs like new buses and train stations that is financed by a higher fee for a license plate. That means drivers paid for the cost of infrastructure (lots of roads, but some transit). Our operating budget should move in that direction as well.In any event, we've got a state policy debate on how, sometime before early 2007 when the FY08 budgets must be created and it becomes very clear and very public just how broke the transit agencies are, we can come up with a lot more money and (here's the fun part) make sure it is spent wisely.

Today's subcommittee hearing of the Mass Transit Committee of the Illinois House started that policy discussion. Triggered by Representative Larry McKeon's HB4663, the subcommittee on Transit Management and Performance discussed how to implement performance measures. This is an important and intriguing debate, because part of building the case for spending more money on transit (a very good thing, especially transit that's powered by electricity and not Saudi Arabian oil) is to get the best bang for the buck. And right now, the members of the Mass Transit committee, led by Chairwoman Julie Hamos, are looking for good ideas.Here are a few I have and I encourage you to add your own to the comments and send that over to Representative Hamos' office.1) All data collected by any transit agency should be available online. It should be open source. Every little bit of data gathered, especially the actual trip times of each run of each bus and train, should be available online.2) Employee data should be online as well, including salaries and benefit packages of every employee. There's a widespread suspicion that some agencies pay too many administrators too much money. If that suspicion is unfounded, then data will evaporate that objection. If it's true, then that needs to change.3) The state should set up somewhat arbitrary standards and force every mass transit agency to use them, so that comparing different agencies will be easy. Ideally, every agency in the country would use the same standard.What else should the state do to make sure that transit agencies work better?

I should mention that Representative McKeon's main point was that transit agencies should be planned according to a consumer-driven process. He wants to start the process by determining what the consumer expects (reliable, on-time, cheap and fast travel, presumably), and then work backwards from there in order to figure out what the agency needs to do to make that happen and what reporting processes need to be created to make sure the agency is executing the plan that leads to consumer expectations.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Gov in town - lightning strikes Capital dome

The Gov showed up yesterday for the first meeting with Democratic leaders regarding budget.

Lightning strikes Capital dome; Senate soundsystem wiped out; elevator leaking water.

God is mad.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Much ado about nothing!

This is a new post with no meaningful content.

Where's the Gov

Rumors abound about when we will pass a budget and adjorn. Budget negotiations have not even begun. The Governor reportedly was in Springfield today. Apparently, he was too busy during the primary to discuss the budget with house and senate leaders. Now, he's too busy campaigning to engage in budget negotiations.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Budget Woes - Where's the Governor

We're in Springfield ready to get to work on legislation and the '07 budget. Session has been extended from April 7th to April 12th. Where's the Governor. Budget negotiations with the Governor and 4 leaders have not even started. My guess is they will send us home to return in early May.