RTA boss: Quinn task force took 'cheap shot' at transit agency

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John Gates Jr., RTA chairman, on Monday accused Governor Quinn’s transit task force of taking a “cheap shot” at the RTA in a report that recommended consolidating the RTA , CTA, Metra and Pace into one regional transit agency.

The task force was appointed by Quinn in “a competitive election year” and exercised some “political partisan editing” before releasing its recommendations, Gates said.

The task force last Monday ripped into the Regional Transportation Authority for, among other things, selecting Jordan Matyas, son-in-law of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, for a top RTA post that included lobbying work at a time when Madigan was rumored to be seeking to abolish the RTA and an amendment to a Senate bill sought to remove the RTA chairman.

Asked about the harsh task force language concerning the RTA, Gates said, “It was a really cheap shot.”

Representatives of the governor’s office and the task force could not be reached for comment.

He insisted Matyas was selected months after a bill was defeated that would have given the governor appointing authority over the RTA chair.

Matyas “came in through the front door,” was one of at least two candidates he interviewed and “ has done a terrific job,” Gates told reporters after an address to the City Club of Chicago.

Earlier, Gates told a City Club audience Monday that the task force’s super agency solution was “not politically doable” because elected officials in the six-county region were not “unified” behind it.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already called the task force report the work of “propeller heads” and said he opposes the one-agency idea as lacking accountability.

More realistic, Gates said, would be to give the RTA enhanced powers to achieve the mission envisioned for it. For starters, the RTA should have line item veto power over CTA, Metra and Pace budgets rather than only being given the “nuclear option” of rejecting an agency’s entire budget if it disagreed with one item in it, Gates said.

Gates also called on lawmakers to up the RTA’s bonding authority by $5 billion over 5 years to help the CTA, Metra and Pace combat $20 billion in mechanical and other capital needs. Transit machinery is “wearing out” and will start “running slow” if not addressed soon, Gates said.

Gates, who has announced he will step down from the RTA when his term ends, suggested the RTA could use increased sales tax revenues — which he said have risen by $40 million a year since 2010 — to bankroll new RTA bonds.

Given the city’s “plummeting” bond rating, Gates said the RTA could save taxpayers “tens of millions” by taking over city transit bonding from the CTA. The RTA has a higher, AA bond rating, Gates said.

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