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The clock is ticking

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There's still not much happening in Springfield on the transit funding front, which increases the likelihood that the CTA and Pace will be forced to cut service and raise fares this weekend.

What, if anything, have you done to prepare for doomsday?

So, the crisis has been averted for now.

The CTA and Pace are backing off from planned fare hikes and/or service cuts that would have taken effect Sunday. But stopgap funding from Governor Blagojevich has only delayed doomsday budget cuts until Nov. 4.

What do you think the odds are that state legislators can come to agreement by then on a transit funding package?

If they don't, transit officials are predicting an even bigger meltdown than would have occurred Sunday. For instance, the CTA would have to lay off 1,000 people instead of 600, and more bus and rail routes would be cut, President Ron Huberman said Friday. Metra has also said that it would have to raise fares next year, and Pace would be just a skeleton of its former self with the drastic service reductions that officials have outlined.

Here's hoping the next six weeks in Springfield are a lot more productive than the last 9 months.

This just in....

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Threatened CTA fare hikes and service cuts may be off the table if the RTA board accepts a $24 million bailout from Gov. Blagojevich.

In a morning meeting at the Thompson Center, the governor offered to immediately advance the full amount of a state subsidy to the CTA's umbrella organization, the Regional Transportation Authority.

That would enable the RTA to give the Chicago Transit Authority a $24 million funding boost right now — money that could allow the agency to avoid service cuts and fare hikes until Nov. 4.

More bad news

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They say politicians like to release bad news on Fridays. Well, this announcement from Senate President Emil Jones' office certainly gives some weight to that theory:

Jones said the Senate has postponed a special session that would have been held Monday to discuss a funding package for mass transit. The meeting was rescheduled for Sept. 17, a day after the CTA's doomsday deadline for service cuts and fare hikes. Pace will also increase fares for paratransit riders on the 16th.

Read about it here.

It's official. The CTA will cut several bus routes and raise fares on Sept. 16 unless the state legislature comes up with additional funding to plug the agency's budget shortfall.

The plan approved by the CTA board on Wednesday is a less severe version of what was proposed in May. It seems hundreds of rider complaints at the public meetings held in June made CTA officials revise the plan, so that it has a less severe impact on transit-dependent, low-income riders.

Read more about it here.

The CTA has reached a five-year agreement with its unions governing wages, health-care and pension reforms, putting the heat on the Illinois General Assembly to act to avert threatened fare hikes and service cuts.

More than 100 people showed up this morning for the last of four public meetings on the CTA's contingency plan to balance its budget.

The CTA board was supposed to vote on the proposed service cuts and fare increases right afterward. But the vote was postponed because CTA President Ron Huberman and board Chair Carole Brown were called to meet with the governor and state legislative leaders in Springfield.

No word yet on what's going to come out of that meeting, but the hope is that it will be good news for the CTA.

Governor Blagojevich has said that he won't approve a budget that doesn't include at least $100 million for the CTA, which has a $97.5 million deficit for 2007. But he also said that he won't support a sales tax increase in the collar counties, which is the funding mechanism the Regional Transportation Authority is pushing.

CTA riders, meanwhile, expressed outrage at the proposed service cuts and fare increases the CTA has said it will resort to in September without additional state funding. Yet, many also acknowledged that the public hearing was an exercise in futility, since the real answer to the problem is "in Springfield...not in this room," as one rider put it.

In slightly better news for the CTA, Metra and Pace, the Mass Transit Committee of the Illinois House approved a $452 million funding proposal backed by the Regional Transportation Authority.

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