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January 13, 2008

Gov. Blagojevich, Rev. Meeks, urge General Assembly to approve Governor’s plan to provide free public transportation to seniors
Governor sends long-term mass transit bill back to lawmakers with provision giving senior citizens free rides on public transportation

CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich joined Reverend and state Senator James Meeks today at New Salem Baptist House of Hope on Chicago’s south side, where he spoke to 8,000 congregants and urged members of the Illinois General Assembly to quickly approve his improvements to a long-term mass transit funding bill.  On Friday, the Governor officially submitted his Amendatory Veto to House Bill 656, the CTA funding bill, to provide free public transportation to all Illinois seniors.  After lawmakers in both chambers approved a CTA funding bill that relies in part on a .25% increase in the sales tax in Chicago and surrounding counties, the Governor promised to rewrite the bill to minimize the impact on senior citizens by allowing them to use public transportation for free. 
“The General Assembly sent me a bill that will avert a transit doomsday and keep trains and buses running, but it relies on a .25% sales tax increase to do it.  That’s not an approach I support.  I urged lawmakers to pass an alternative version that did not include a sales tax increase.  But there isn’t time to start this process over, so I’m working with the bill they sent me and making it better.  I sent the General Assembly an amendatory veto that minimizes the impact on people who live on fixed incomes and can least afford to pay a higher sales tax.  With my change, all Illinois senior citizens can ride public transportation for free,” the Governor said.  “I’m pleased to be here with Reverend Meeks.  We’ll be working in the days ahead to build support among other legislators to accept my veto next week and give seniors the ability to get where they need to go for free.”
The Governor asked the congregation at New Salem Baptist House of Hope to help the transit crisis reach an end by calling their legislators and urging them to accept his amendatory veto next week.  Lawmakers have until January 20 to take final action on a long-term transit funding bill or the CTA will begin implementing service cuts, fare hikes and lay-offs.
The Governor’s amendatory veto will require transit agencies statewide to allow senior citizens, aged 65 and older, to use main line and fixed route public transit service for free.  A senior who uses public transportation twice a week could save $176 a year on CTA fares, $156 a year on Pace fares and $405 a year on Metra fares.  There are approximately 1.3 million seniors living in communities across Illinois that have mass transit service.   
HB 656 provides over $494 million in new, recurring funding for the Regional Transportation Authority, which includes the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace; and another $50 million for transit agencies in other parts of Illinois.  With a long-term funding plan in place, the Chicago area transit agencies have said they will not cut services, raise fares or lay-off workers on January 20, as planned. The legislation also implements important pension and oversight reforms within the RTA.


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