Metro-East News

St. Clair, Madison transit districts could face state budget cuts

St. Clair and Madison County mass transit districts may have to adjust operations or slow down planned projects if proposed state budget cuts by Gov. Bruce Rauner go through.

About $75 million in cuts to downstate transit districts have been proposed as part of Rauner’s plan to close a $6 billion budget gap for the 2016 fiscal year.

According to the governor’s office, St. Clair County could see an $11.3 million cut and Madison County could see an $8.6 million cut to their annual mass transit appropriations from the state as part of the proposal.

“The governor looks forward to working with downstate transit to help communities implement the local empowerment reforms he’s laid out in the Turnaround Agenda that will help reduce costs and provide greater value to taxpayers,” said Rauner Press Secretary Catherine Kelly.

Some of the reforms include limiting prevailing wage requirements and implementing workers compensation reform.

St. Clair County Transit District Managing Director Bill Grogan said the district could slow down planned projects or purchases, such as bike path improvements, buying new buses, or facility improvements, in order to help deal with a possible cut from the state.

“What we’re anticipating is we’ll be able to make up for all those losses, without a loss of service,” Grogan said.

“One has to assume this is the first of multiple years we’ll have to hear this news,” Grogan added.

Grogan said in 2014 the district had a $55.6 million operating budget. The district contracts with Metro to provide light rail and bus service, as well as Southwestern Illinois College to operate the Alternative Transportation System service to elderly and disabled riders.

The district also receives revenue from a local sales tax, which was approved by referendum. It also gets credits for fares collected by Metro and advertising at Metro stops.

As for the 2016 fiscal year budget, St. Clair’s Transit District is holding off on putting together a spending plan until the state finalizes its 2016 budget.

Grogan said he doesn’t expect any fare increases this year as part of a response to possible budget cuts.

Last year Metro increased MetroLink single fares from $2.25 to $2.50, weekly passes from $25 to $27, monthly passes from $72 to $78; and the semester pass from $150 to $175. MetroBus fares were not changed.

Although fare increases would need to be approved by the Bi-State Development Agency Board of Commissioners, Metro has a plan in place that calls for raising fares by a small percentage approximately every two years to address the transit system's growing capital and operating needs, according to its website.

St. Clair can have different fares, but has chosen to mirror the Metro fares, Grogan said.

“It makes it easier on everybody,” Grogan said.

Transit subsidies come from the state’s general revenue fund.

“It’s been fairly generous,” Grogan said. “We expected sooner or later someone would say ‘let’s take a look at that.’”

How the Madison County Mass Transit District would make up for the possible lost funding has yet to be determined, said Jerry Kane, the managing director of the district.

“Anything I would say would be premature until we know for a fact how deep the cut would be,” Kane said. “We are looking at different options, but they’re only options at this point.”

“I believe it’s too early to tell what would happen in fiscal year 2016 because the general assembly has yet to take up the governor’s 2016 budget,” Kane added.

He did say public transportation is important to the economy.

Kane said cutting public transportation funding might make it difficult for people to get to their jobs, especially if they depend on public transit.

“The governor believes he can help solve the state’s financial crisis by growing the economy,” Kane said. “Public transportation for some people is the only means of mobility. It may be counter productive to growing the economy to cut transportation.”

“All downstate transit districts are hopeful there will be a lessening of the severity of these proposed cuts,” Kane added. “We all realize we have to share in the pain.”