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State Senate Keeps Free Rides For Seniors

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Apr 22, 2010 5:20PM

Photo by Brian Hagy
Like it or not, the Legacy of Blagojevich lives on in the state of Illinois in at least one way. A bill that would have limited the free RTA rides seniors now receive - one of Blago's last acts before getting the boot from Springfield - has fallen short in the state Senate. The Senate Executive Committee voted 7-6 against advancing the bill which would have set a threshold for seniors to receive free rides: single seniors who make less than $27,610 a year or couples who make less than $34,635 a year.

With all due respect to our city's senior citizens, the free rides bill was a bad idea to begin with. Remember, it came about as then-governor Blagojevich tried to have a pissing contest with Mayor Daley, holding transit funding to prevent a CTA Doomsday hostage so that he could get a small concession. Of course, cuts came to the CTA anyway, but that only underlines the issue. With the RTA severely lacking state funding and in danger of even more cuts on top of the ones we've already gone through - not to mention that ginormous state budget hole that's only making matters worse - the fact that state legislators were unwilling to make one minor concession that would generate at least a little bit of money for the transit agency is confounding. Of course, the CTA isn't exactly innocent in all of this - we're pretty sure riders would rather have those all routes running than fancy flat-screen TVs at a few train stations - and has mismanaged itself into the ground.

Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago) told the media: “It’s outrageous that in these tough economic times that we would allow anybody — CTA, RTA, the rest of them — to come and try to take this one… itty bitty little thing away from our dear, poor, struggling senior citizens at a time of economic crisis." The problem, Sen. Hendon, is that there are plenty of non-senior RTA riders who are in the same boat, living below the poverty line and dealing with the economic crisis, but don't have the benefit of not having to pay for their ride. Instead, there commutes to work and school are longer and more difficult thanks to the cuts made earlier this year. Granted, the $50 million the new bill would have saved for the RTA is a drop in the bucket when you're talking about a budget gap in the hundreds of millions of dollars (again, largely a result of its own foibles), but every bit counts.