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Still paying for Blagojevich's mistakes
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 10/19/2009 12:00 AM

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Wouldn't it be nice if every politician was as practical as Teresa Lindner?

The 67-year-old Arlington Heights resident takes advantage about once a month of a state law that provides free rides for seniors on Metra, Pace and the CTA. And why not? It's the law.

But she also knows that it's not necessary and wouldn't mind if she had to pay.

"I use it about once a month and I do appreciate it. It helps make ends meet. However, it's fine with me if it goes away and is just for people with low incomes. When they had the reduced rate, I thought that was good enough."

Indeed it was. But former Gov. Rod Blagojevich decided in early 2008 that all seniors should get a free ride. Knowing what we know now about the former governor, it's clear that was a calculated move to get votes. Well, guess what? No one's voting for Rod Blagojevich anymore. It's time to clean up his mess.

Transportation writer Marni Pyke reported Friday that a new analysis found that free rides for seniors and disabled individuals will equal a loss of more than $1 billion for the CTA, Pace and Metra by 2030. The per year loss is $70 million. The study comes as the transportation agencies are considering fare hikes and service reductions in the face of budget shortfalls.

"Clearly it's unsustainable and we have to do something," said Regional Transportation Authority board member Patrick Durante of Addison.

We support state Rep. Suzie Bassi's efforts to repeal the free rides except for low-income seniors. The Palatine Republican's proposal would revert to the old system in which seniors who don't qualify for free rides receive half-price fares.

Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont also is taking up the cause. Her spokeswoman told Pyke in a Sunday follow-up story that Radogno "feels strongly a senior partner in a law firm doesn't deserve a free ride downtown. Every dollar counts."

Even though the idea clearly was politically motivated by Blagojevich, Bassi concedes that now it will be difficult for legislators to reverse course, saying seniors are an important constituent group.

That's why they need to talk to people like Lindner or 76-year-old Peter Zadeik, also of Arlington Heights, who says he'll still use Metra twice a week even if it wasn't free.

We were critical of this program when it first was approved and nothing has changed. It is bad policy at a time when the state and these transportation agencies can least afford it. Recently we told the RTA to make sure they had trimmed the fat off the budget before reducing service or increasing fares. This is an example of fat. They can't get rid of it until the legislature corrects Blagojevich's mistake. Legislators need to step up and do the right thing. We believe most seniors would agree.