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Transit Situation Gets Messier

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The Chicago region’s public transportation mess just got a little messier. Labor unions today said CTA workers could strike if state legislators don’t find a funding solution by the end of the year. To make things worse, a meeting between state lawmakers scheduled for this morning was canceled at the last minute.

After talks between lawmakers went close to nowhere yesterday, today was supposed to be a day of progress. It’s been nothing of the sort. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says so far, legislators haven’t even gotten their list straight.

DALEY: The highest priority is not about gaming, or who gets a casino, or where the casino’s going to be. The highest priority deals right now, with the people that use public transportation.

Part of the problem is mass transit funding is tied to casinos. Casinos are the main funding source for a multi-billion dollar capital bill aimed to please downstate lawmakers. Both Daley and House Speaker Mike Madigan declined to meet with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich again today.

So with legislative talks going nowhere, the unions upped the ante.

HARRIS: Maybe we have to show you exactly what a doomsday looks like.

That’s Rick Harris, president of the union that represents train operators. He says Chicago’s mass transit workers are at wits’ end.

HARRIS: And one thing I know will cause a detriment to the riding public is the fact that you won’t see a train or bus coming down the street or down the rail. And maybe... that signal needs to be sent to people, to the legislators, to let them know that, what else do you expect us to do?

The CTA recently reformed its pensions to reduce its debt load. That deal hinges on a funding solution by December 31.

Governor Blagojevich yesterday said the legislative leaders could come to an agreement by Thanksgiving. But with the talks stalled and the unions’ new threat, that just might be wishful thinking.

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