Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Rauner’

Illinois Passenger Advocates Still Optimistic About Amtrak Expansion to Peoria, Quad Cities Region

April 10, 2016

Midwest rail passenger advocates remain optimistic that Amtrak will eventually reach Peoria, Illinois, and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

Speaking at a meeting held in Chicago, Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Rick Harnish said he is satisfied that the State of Illinois continues to discuss expansion.

“We’re going to expand Amtrak and we need to do it sooner, rather than later,” Harnish said.

The meeting came a year after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed cutting state funding for Amtrak service by 40 percent.

That came amid a budget crisis that still continues. However, the Illinois Department of Transportation in February announced an agreement with Amtrak to maintain service at its present levels until this summer.

Harnish said he has received a commitment from the Rauner administration to provide 110-mile-an-hour service on Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis corridor in 2017.

He said the widely-held belief that passenger rail is a Democratic issue and opposed by Republicans is a misconception. “It isn’t really that clear-cut,” he said.

Harnish said Republican governors, including Rauner, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have all supported passenger rail expansion programs.

Walker is known for having opposed an expansion of Amtrak service between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, shortly after he was elected in 2010. His administration has been supportive of the current Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

During the meeting, Amtrak officials said the passenger carrier plans to transform Chicago Union Station into a multi-level shopping arcade while moving its ticketing and passenger lounge to the station’s Great Hall in an attempt to eliminate crowding at Amtrak and Metra gates.

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Illinois Senate OKs Spending on Amtrak

March 21, 2016

The Illinois Senate voted last week to authorize spending to pay the state’s bills from Amtrak.

But there is no assurance that the bill will win the approval of Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has been at odds with the Illinois General Assembly since last year over a fiscal year 2016 budget.

IllinoisThe Senate bill would add another another $4 billion in spending onto the nearly $7.5 billion in backlogged bills.

But Senate Democrats, who control that chamber, acknowledged that even if the bill is adopted it won’t guarantee payment.

Similar to a bill passed by the House last month, the Senate bill adds payments to Amtrak and libraries operated by the secretary of state.

The Rauner administration described the bill as a “a cruel hoax on those it is purportedly designed to help.” Republicans have said the state lacks the money to spend on what is authorized in the spending bills.

The Senate bill will now be considered by the House.

Rauner has threatened to veto piecemeal spending legislation and has instead sought a bill that would give him broad powers to cut spending in order to free up money to pay for various programs.

 

No Cuts in Illinois Service through June 30

February 6, 2016

Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation announced on Friday an agreement to maintain through June 30 the current schedule and fares of trains funded by the state.

“This agreement preserves the service that riders have come to expect, while saving taxpayers money and avoiding fare increases for our downstate routes,” said IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

IDOTService levels on Illinois-funded trains had been in jeopardy due to the lack of a budget for fiscal year 2016 and the desire of Gov. Bruce Rauner to reduce funding for Amtrak service by 40 percent.

Illinois has agreed to pay $38.3 million toward state-supported trains for the current fiscal year compared with $42 million in FY 2015.

IDOT negotiated credits for previous spending by the state on Amtrak equipment upgrades, including Wi-Fi service, as well as a $2.7 million cut in an Amtrak request for additional equipment upgrades and maintenance.

Amtrak said last November that nearly 1.3 million passengers rode Illinois-funded  trains in FY 2015, a 4 percent drop from the previous fiscal year.

The railroad blamed falling gasoline prices and service interruptions for the drop in patronage.

Illinois underwrites four pairs of trains between Chicago and St. Louis; two pairs of trains between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois; and two pairs of trains between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois. All three routes are covered in part by long-distance trains that are not funded by the state.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari called the agreement a good deal for both sides.

“We’ve had a long series of conversations with Illinois DOT and they wanted very much to try and find what they could do to save the service at the current level, so do we,” Magliari said.

Illinois Amtrak Trains Continue to Operate Despite Lack of Budget Agreement for FY 2016

July 7, 2015

Illinois still doesn’t have a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 and the governor has threatened to cut Amtrak funding by 40 percent.

But for now Amtrak’s state-funded trains in Illinois continue to run as before. Amtrak officials have indicated that that will be the case for at least several weeks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced in mid-June plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in Illinois from $42 million to $26 million.

The governor took the action after he vetoed a budget approved by the Illinois General Assembly that Rauner said was out of balance.

Amtrak has seen these type of budget fights before. Rauner is a Republican in his first term in office while the legislature is controlled by Democrats.

“It’s not unusual for us to begin a fiscal year without a contract or a budget in place, in this state and others,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “There’s a continuation clause in the current contract so it continues on. We’ll continue to provide service while we await a conclusion.”

Magliari said that the continuation clause says that “the contract continues in force for several months. I don’t expect this will take several months.”

Nonetheless, Magliari said Amtrak is “discussing with (the Illinois Department of Transportation) what the service will look like going forward.”

Should Amtrak service on Illinois state-funded routes need to be reduced, Magliari said there will be several weeks notice of those cuts.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly confirmed that IDOT is talking with Amtrak about future service.

“IDOT is proceeding as quickly as possible to make decisions about the frequency and level of service that the state can afford. Despite weeks of conversations, Amtrak has not yet provided IDOT with the complete financial information necessary to reduce service,” Kelly said.

Illinois funds two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Carbondale, and between Chicago and Quincy. It also funds four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis and helps underwrite service between Chicago and Milwaukee. The latter service is also funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The Illinois-funded trains have been particularly popular with college students.

In Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University, students were lined up on the last day of the most recent school term, huddling under an awning as it began raining.

Most of the students were headed for Chicago, but some would be getting off at a station in central Illinois.

Although Carbondale is served by the Chicago-bound City of New Orleans in the middle of the night, the early morning state-funded Saluki is more popular.

The next train from Carbondale to Chicago is the late afternoon Illini.

“I probably wouldn’t take the train because I can’t get up at 3:30 in the morning because I’m a sleeper,” said Justin Edelheit of Buffalo Grove as he waited to board the Saluki. “Well, I don’t really have a car down here so I have to take the train to get home and that’s the only way I have to see my family. ”

Pareth Patel can understand Justin’s reliance on Amtrak. “I don’t actually have a car here so it’s easier for me to take the train because I take the train from here to Chicago and then I take the [Metra] train from Union Station to Naperville which is closer to my house.”

Joe Tumminaro likes the train ride home to the suburbs. “I actually take the train a lot. I got rid of my car his year to take the train because it’s just easier,” he said.

John O’Shea said he rides the train every couple of months. “I live right by [Chicago] Union Station so this takes me right to there and I live two blocks away from here so it’s just easy; it’s just a hassle driving 6 hours to and from.”

O’Shea said he often rides the City of New Orleans, but on this day he needed another option, so he rode the Saluki.

“That’s usually the one I take, but that’s just because it’s more convenient for me, I’m taking this because I have to be here somewhere tonight.”

Keelia Hamdan connects in Chicago with a train for Detroit. Losing options could lead to headaches getting home, especially after exams.

“It would be much more difficult to get around and as you can see a ton of people come like the end of the semester so it would effect a lot of people,” she said.

Rauner Threatens 40% Amtrak Funding Cut

June 27, 2015

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has indicated that he plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in the state by 40 percent on July 1.

The governor’s plan is to cut the funding from $42 million to $26 million as part of some $820 million in spending cuts that he plans to impose if there is not budget agreement by the time the 2016 fiscal year begins on July 1.

Rauner, a Republican, vetoed an earlier budget sent to him by the Illinois General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats.

The governor said that budget was nearly $4 billion out of balance. The legislature earlier passed a school funding bill that Rauner signed.

Although Amtrak has said it is unclear what effect the wrangling over the budget will have on its state-supported, Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said in a statement that the cuts would result in fewer trains and higher fares.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak is awaiting official word as to how funding Illinois will provide for the service it helps underwrite on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee, St. Louis, Quincy and Carbondale.

“We’ve not had any formal word from Illinois DOT,” Magliari said. “We’re still accepting bookings for current levels of service.”

Some observers have seen Rauner’s announcement of a new series of cuts to state programs as a strategy to prod Democratic leaders to include some of the governor’s pro-business proposals in a compromise budget deal.

In particular, Democrats have balked at Rauner’s attempts to alter worker compensation laws and have voted down his push for a property tax freeze.

Democrats have proposed extending an income tax hike that is scheduled to expire, but Rauner said he won’t support that without the legislature adopting at least five of his initiatives.

In a spending proposal made in February, Rauner said he wanted to reduce Amtrak funding subsidy by 40 percent, a move that Amtrak said would result in cuts to Illinois Amtrak service. The specter of Amtrak cuts prompted statements of concern from lawmakers and university town officials, who say the reductions would hurt students, business and tourism.

The budget bill approved by the General Assembly would keep Amtrak funding at its current $42 million level.

For now, Amtrak is continuing to operate under its current schedule. “We don’t anticipate any July 1 change,” Magliari said.

Budget Talks Crucial for Amtrak Service in Illinois

May 11, 2015

The next few weeks will be pivotal for the future of intercity rail passenger service in Illinois.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed a budget that would dramatically reduce the level of state support for Amtrak trains as well as public transit.

Rauner would cut funding for Amtrak from $42 million annually to $26 million.

It is not clear how this affect Amtrak service in the state other than there may be fewer trains.

At present, Illinois helps to underwrite the costs of two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Quincy, two roundtrips between Chicago and Carbondale, and four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis. Illinois also helps to fund the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service.

Amtrak has declined to say how service cuts would play out if the Illinois General Assembly adopts Rauner’s budget recommendation.

There is widespread agreement that service reductions would be the result, but Amtrak won’t say which trains might be discontinued and/or operate less frequently.

The budget cuts stem from a $6 million budget deficit that is staring lawmakers in the face for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Not surprisingly, rail and transit supporters are seeking to rally public support against the governor’s plan.

They’ve organized the Grow Illinois Transit Campaign and established a website, www.growillinoistransit.org.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association and National Association of Railroad Passengers has joined the fight.

They’ve pointed out that not only would Amtrak suffer under the proposed budget cuts, but so would public transportation offered in Chicago by Metra, The Chicago Transit Authority and the suburban-oriented PACE bus network.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in 2006, Illinois increased support for Amtrak and state-supported service doubled on the corridors linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

Also doubling was ridership on those corridors. The state trains carried 242,144 passengers in 2005. In 2014, they carried 633,531, an increase of nearly 162 percent.

The Carbondale and St. Louis corridors are also used by long-distance trains for New Orleans and San Antonio respectively. Operations of those trains would not be affected by any cut in funding for Amtrak.

Connecting bus service also links such cities as Peoria and Danville, neither of which are served by Amtrak, with Amtrak stations in Champaign, Normal and Galesburg.

The latter point enables passengers to connect with long-distance trains traveling to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay.

But it is not just existing service that is facing the guillotine. Development of new service between Chicago and Rockford, and Chicago and the Quad Cities region has been frozen.

There is fear that further development of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor for high speed service will be halted with the project far from complete.

The state, Amtrak and Union Pacific have spent millions to upgrade the corridor in several places for speeds of up to 110 mile per hour.

Not surprisingly, the opponents of the funding cuts are pointing toward potential harm to economic development and tourism.

At a news conference at the Statehouse in Springfield, Midwest High Speed Rail Association executive director Rick Harnish played the economy card.

“More and more people are choosing where they are going to live or do business based on access to walking, buses and trains,” Harnish said. “Therefore, it’s critical if we want to grow this state’s economy … we need to make it attractive for (people) to travel throughout the state so that they can stay here but access the other things they want.”

Gina Gemberling, acting director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The State Journal Register that the trains are a “vital link for bringing state, national and international tourists to see our important historic sites.”

Springfield tourism officials said 194,762 people rode Amtrak to Springfield in 2014, almost 20,500 more than the 174,265 who used Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

The city’s mayor-elect, Jim Langfelder, said he will work through whatever the legislature decides to do, but he also sees the value of transportation.

“Society likes convenience,” he said. “The more you can make transportation convenient, the better, not only for work but for tourism.”

The Rauner administration is seeking to lay the blame for the spending cuts at the feet of previous governors, which spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said left Rauner with no choice but to cut the budget.

“Illinois’ fiscal crisis is a result of years of insider deals and overspending, and as a result, the state is $6 billion in the hole,” she said. “Without structural reform, difficult choices must be made to balance the budget and ensure care to the state’s most vulnerable.”

Rauner is a Republican and the legislature is controlled by Democrats, so it seems likely that the governor won’t get all of what he is seeking.

But party affiliation might not matter much when budget negotiations reach a critical stage and tough fiscal decisions need to be made.

Transportation funding, though, is a small part of what is at stake and what the governor and lawmakers are fighting over as they seek to narrow the budget deficit.

There are issues involving funding for the pension plans of public employees, funding for Medicaid and proposed reductions in the budget of the Department of Children and Family Services.

The governor has proposed an increase of $300 million in funding for K-12 education.

Legislators and Rauner have been sparring over what has been dubbed the “Turn Around Agenda” in which Democrats would get new revenue sources to devote to priorities dear to Democratic legislators in exchange for passage of business oriented measures dear to the Republican governor.

It remains to be seen to what degree funding Amtrak and public transportation are dear to either side.

Illinois has a long history of funding Amtrak service. It was the second state to offer Amtrak to operate trains that were not part of the 1971 basic system and it has funded more trains for a much longer period of time than has any other Midwest state.

Lawmakers and state policy makers and employees are active users of Amtrak trains between the capitol city and the Windy City.

Western Illinois University, Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign are located on the routes used by the state-funded trains with Eastern Illinois University just 10 miles away from a station on the Carbondale route.

So there is an active travel by train culture in Illinois that is all but non-existent in Ohio, stunted in Wisconsin and just now starting to develop in Indiana.

In the end, transportation seems likely to face a reduction and the discussion is probably going to center on how much. It probably will not be the number put forth by the governor.

Perhaps all of Amtrak’s current slate of state-funded trains will continue in operation.

But the price of that might be that continued development of new services and full-speed ahead continuation of high-speed rail construction in the Chicago-St. Louis corridors will be casualties of whatever bargain that the two sides reach.

Amtrak Warns of Cuts if Illinois Reduces Funding

March 29, 2015

Amtrak has warned that the State of Illinois may need to repay more than $1 billion in federal grant money if the state cuts funding of service in the Chicago-Louis corridor.

Ray Lang, senior director of national state relations for Amtrak, said at an Illinois House committee hearing that the cuts being proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner would have a significant impact on other passenger rail routes in Illinois.

Rauner has proposed slashing the state’s share of Amtrak funding by 40 percent from $42 million per year to $26 million.

Lang said if service cannot be reduced on the Chicago-St. Louis route because of the federal payback issue, service would have to be cut on other routes.

Citing the Chicago-Carbondale corridor, he said the Illini and Saluki might be eliminated, leaving only the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans via Champaign and Carbondale.

“You’re talking about elimination of service on routes. Worst-case scenario is that you’d just have the City of New Orleans (train,)” Lang said.

However, Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell had a different perspective.

“The state’s financial support for Amtrak’s annual operations is independent of any construction work that’s ongoing or has already taken place,” Tridgell said.

Tridgell said that he was speaking in a general sense and not specifically about the Chicago-St. Louis route.

He also contended that no route decisions have been made. “Everything is still under review,” Tridgell said.

Rauner’s push to cut funding for Amtrak service is in contrast with the policies of former Gov. Pat Quinn, who had pushed for expanded Amtrak service, including new routes to Rockford and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

Those proposed new Amtrak routes took a hit when Rauner froze grants that were earmarked to pay for track construction.

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, expressed outrage that Rauner froze spending on the projects. “That is crazy,” Verschoore told the committee.

Rauner also wants to reduce mass transit spending by $180 million, a level that has Democratic lawmakers who control the General Assembly upset.

“I do not think I can support that deep of a cut to any of these transit agencies,” said state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, who chairs the appropriation committee. “I tell you, something’s got to give.”l

Executive Order Halts Work on Illinois Rail Routes

February 10, 2015

An executive order signed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner last Saturday has put on hold work on upgrading the Chicago-St. Louis Corridor for higher speed rail passenger service.

The order prohibits state agencies from awarding contracts without the administration’s approval.

This also will affect plans by the Illinois Department of Transportation to implement Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford over Union Pacific tracks.

The order is effective until July 1. News media reports indicated that the governor’s office is undertaking a review of all state spending.

Illinois has spent $3 million on engineering items related to the Rockford rail service. Local media reported that Huntley, Ill., local officials have committed $50,000 to an engineering study that was to lead to establishment of an Amtrak station for the Rockford service.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn had sought to expedite service to Huntley and other northwest Illinois communities.

His administration identified $60 million for re-establishing Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford. That service had been projected to begin by late this year.