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As Budget Fight Hobbles Downstate Mass Transit, Legislators Move To Help

bus stop

The state budget impasse has left Illinois months behind in payment to downstate mass transit agencies. That’s led to cuts in service from Kankakee to Jacksonville.

Now lawmakers are looking to remove them from the fight.

Downstate transit is funded in part through city and county sales taxes. But before that money can be spent, it passes through state government. That means transit agencies have to wait in a long line to get paid — Illinois’ so-called backlog of bills stands at more than $11 billion.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, a Democrat from Edwardsville, is sponsoring legislation that would essentially pull downstate transit out of line, sending them tax money directly.

“We have transit districts downstate that are under threat of closing, and we have people that can’t get to school, and jobs, and medical appointments,” Stuart says.

In a fiscal note on the legislation, the Illinois comptroller warns that this would remove her discretion to say whether some other claim on state money should take priority over transit — like schools, drug treatment centers, or even state employee paychecks. But spokeswoman Jamey Dunn says the office is not taking a position for or against the bill.

Dunn says the comptroller’s office released $19.3 million for the transit agencies Monday, but still owes $70 million.

The legislation was approved in the Illinois House last week on a bipartisan vote of 102-12, and goes next to the state Senate.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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