Lawmakers urge Congress to ‘man up’ on transportation funding

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Illinois’ federal lawmakers stood united with area transit leaders Thursday in urging Congress to “man up” and pass a long-term federal transportation funding bill before two key transit measures expire or teeter on insolvency.

“My message to Congress is `Man up,’ ” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.), announced at a “Stand Up 4 Transportation” news conference at Chicago’s Union Station.

Durbin joined U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) in urging Congress to pass long-term funding instead of patchwork short-term solutions to bankroll the nation’s public transit and transportation systems.

Lipinski noted that Congress has passed 11 short-term extensions to fund the nation’s highway and transit needs in roughly the last six years.

“This is not good for our country,” Lipinski said. “Congress cannot keep kicking the can down the road . . . The system becomes more and more expensive to fix.”

Leaders of the CTA, Metra, Pace and Amtrak joined elected officials in urging long-term, sustainable funding to maintain and upgrade transportation needs — from buses and trains to roads and bridges. Such a move is critical to not only the nation’s ability to move goods and carry people to work and commerce but to its future, they said.

Quigley noted that investing in transportation infrastructure pays dividends. He said that 6 percent of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was passed in the “depths of the economic downturn” involved such infrastructure projects, but they generated two-thirds of the jobs the Act produced.

Similar events were held throughout the country Thursday, a national “Stand Up 4 Transportation Day.” They occurred as the Move Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or Map-21, is due to expire on May 31 and the federal Highway Trust Fund faces the possibility of teetering on insolvency this summer.

President Barack Obama has proposed spending $478 billion over the next six years to boost the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Funding ideas include increasing the 18.4 cents per gallon federal fuel tax and a “repatriation” plan in which companies with overseas branches or investments would bring back earnings to the United States at a 14 percent tax rate.

Even Republican Dold said he was intrigued by the idea because it would encourage companies with an estimated $2 trillion in offshore dollars to redirect those funds to the U.S., at a less than corporate tax rate, rather than invest them overseas.

“We have to put all the options on the table,” Dold said. The key, he said, is a long-term, sustainable plan that will allow transportation agencies “to plan ahead and get greater use of their dollars.”

Locally, Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed cutting almost $170 million from the region’s transit systems, including a $130 million annual hit to the CTA, an almost $21 million cut to Metra, a $10 million trim to Pace, as well as the elimination of S$8.5 million in state funding to Pace for paratransit service for the disabled.

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