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An Open Letter to the Illinois Legislature: Stop Tax Hikes for Transit!
October 31, 2007
On behalf of the nearly 14,000 Illinois members of the National Taxpayers Union, I urge you to oppose attempts to raise sales taxes to fund public transportation. Taxpayers should not be forced to pick up the tab for chronically mismanaged transit organizations that cannot balance a budget.
Officials from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), along with the Metra and Pace systems, insist that taxpayers need to cough up as much as $400 million extra or else suffer service cuts. CTA estimates next year's budget shortfall to be $150 million, much of it because of bungled pension policies for employees. This runaway fiscal recklessness has got to stop. A sales tax hike was already rejected back in September and even Governor Blagojevich, a fervent advocate of many revenue-raising schemes, opposes more sales taxes to fund transit. Elected officials around the nation have raised taxes in the past to make up for budget gaps caused by out-of-control spending, and Chicagoland residents shouldn't end up serving as the latest fiscal crutch in this sorry spectacle.
Even if sales taxes are raised, it will not address mass transit's fundamental flaws, chief among them its declining ridership. This is the result of basic demographic changes that cannot be altered by the stroke of a pen, no matter how much CTA might wish it could. Instead of the old model where workers live in the suburbs and commute into Chicago for work, more and more residents are commuting from suburb to suburb. Randal O'Toole from the Reason Foundation recently found that, from 1990 to 2000, Cook County lost 18,000 jobs while surrounding suburbs gained more than 300,000 jobs.
This all plays into another underlying problem of public transit. While it looks fantastic on paper and enjoys conceptual support among more than a few voters, public transit doesn't work because only a fraction of people use it, despite the massive subsidies that continue to prop it up. Poll data suggests that citizens support public transit because they believe it will take more drivers off the highways that they travel everyday, not because they plan to use it themselves.
I urge you to oppose unwise efforts to place an even larger burden on overtaxed citizens. Our transit system would be better served if our leaders would cut wasteful spending instead of picking taxpayers' pockets. Only when the actual users of public transit are expected to pay for the associated costs, and the managers of the systems are held accountable to consumers, can some sort of sensible arrangement be reached.