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Preckwinkle backs down from plan to slash $2 million payment to CTA

Updated: December 17, 2011 8:19AM

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is backing off a proposal to slash a $2 million subsidy the county sends to the Chicago Transit Authority.

Preckwinkle and transit officials Tuesday worked out a deal that means the county will continue sending the money to the CTA, as it has done for the past 30 years. But officials remained tight-lipped about the details of the deal.

Under a provision in state law, the city and county have agreed to pay the transit agency a combined $5 million annually, with the city kicking in $3 million and the county kicking in $2 million. But Preckwinkle’s proposal to reduce the county’s share to $675,000 could have triggered a $168 million loss in funding the Regional Transportation Authority sends to the cash-strapped CTA, Claypool told reporters.

In making the agency’s formal budget pitch, Terry Peterson, CTA Board Chair, told the county board Tuesday: “The support that we get from the county is critical to our budget. Your support for our agency has been steadfast for over three decades and is greatly appreciated by all of our riders.”

Risking a battle with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Claypool, Preckwinkle suggested the county should slash its funding to the CTA and the city should boost how much it sends to the transit agency since city riders enjoy the greatest benefit.

“I still think the city should pay more — that hasn’t changed,” Preckwinkle, a former Chicago alderman, said during a press conference after Tuesday’s board meeting.

Some of the $2 million in motor fuel tax revenues the county directs to the CTA, Preckwinkle has argued, could be used for back-burnered county road projects, she said.

Claypool said he wasn’t “exactly sure” why Preckwinkle dropped the measure, though Preckwinkle told reporters after Tuesday’s board meeting that she and transit officials will announce cost-saving initiatives that will benefit the county and the CTA.

Both Preckwinkle and CTA officials have cried poor over the county-funding issue. Preckwinkle has said the $2.9 billion county government is facing a $315 million shortfall in 2012. And CTA officials are working to close a $277 million gap even as they work for approval of their 2012 proposed budget of $1.24 billion.

Although it was her proposal, Preckwinkle never attached her name to the formal resolution to stop giving the money, which was instead sponsored by several commissioners. Those commissioners argued that county funding of the CTA, while allowed by state law, is not a mandate.

Claypool, a former Cook County commissioner, and several county officials who tried to research the measure say they can’t pinpoint how the funding formula came about.

But Claypool has a theory about why the county should kick in money: “I think the logic probably from the legislature [is] local governments ought to have some skin in the game however minimal, given the state gives significant support to the transit agency.”

Preckwinkle and Claypool have had a frosty political relationship at least since last year’s election, when Claypool, a Democrat, decided to run as an independent against county Democratic Party Chair Joe Berrios for the county assessor’s race. Preckwinkle chastised Claypool for not running as a Democrat and backed Berrios, who eventually won the seat.

Nonetheless, the two shook hands in a corridor outside the board room Tuesday.

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