Last week, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released the county budget for fiscal year 2016. While this may not sound terribly exciting, this particular budget holds the keys to building a strong and resilient Cook County. Although there has been much concern about proposed tax increases, this budget actually presents an opportunity to relieve the cost-of-living burden on Cook County families.
As she has stated in the past, President Preckwinkle’s bold plan to prioritize the county’s needs over her own political gains by levying a 1% sales tax increase “will… allow us to direct needed funding to infrastructure throughout the County through projects that would otherwise be delayed because of diversions from the road fund.” The money that will be freed up by sustainably funding pensions will lead to increased flexibility for new projects. It is crucial that we make the right decisions with this increased flexibility. One of the most important unmet needs in the county is access to rapid transit. Now, in this moment, we must start investing in our transit system.
Attend one of the four upcoming public hearings to have your voice heard and help create the Cook County we all need and deserve! The budget review sessions will be held on:
- October 28th at 6:30 p.m. in Markham
- October 29th at 6:30 p.m. in Skokie
- November 3rd at 9:00 a.m. in the Cook County Building
- November 5th at 6:30 p.m. in Maywood
Today, large swaths of the region lack of access to high-quality transit. Over 438,000 Cook County residents—10% of the overall population—live in transit deserts. This disproportionately affects low- to middle-income households, and the lack of mobility options puts many open jobs out of reach. Given transportation is a household’s second largest expenditure after housing, accessible transport is critical to the health and economic success of all our communities.
Expanding existing train lines, constructing new rail, and a renewed dedication to buses (including the construction of new suburban arterial lines) will mobilize our communities and invigorate local business in ways we haven’t seen in decades. It will provide jobs in both construction and operations while connecting workers with open jobs that are currently out of reach. It will decrease the financial burden of auto ownership on families, relieve congestion, and slow the wear and tear on our road system. This sort of expansion would show Chicagoland’s dedication to efficiency, innovation, and sustainability.
To make this happen, we need a dedicated revenue stream to leverage federal funds. We must call on President Toni Preckwinkle and the Cook County Board to dedicate the $65 million of gas tax revenue that is to be diverted from the criminal justice system toward transit expansion. This would open the doors to federal funding sources like the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) that can make new transit a reality.
President Preckwinkle’s mandate that “we need to once again properly fund infrastructure throughout the county” shows just how necessary it is to make this commitment. We must show our support for the expansion of public transportation and assert that this is how new revenue should be used. Together, we can shape the future of Chicagoland transit.