New law increases transparency, creates salary restrictions for transit employees

CHICAGO – Illinois residents will now have easy access to online information regarding mass transit employee salaries as well as safety and budget information.

Citing the benefit of increased government accountability, Gov. Quinn Friday signed a bill to reform the state’s mass transit hiring policies.

Andrew Nelms is director of policy and communications for Americans for Prosperity, a group that advocates for lower taxes and government accountability. He said legislation like the bill signed Friday could be beneficial for taxpayers.

“Anytime taxpayers have access to information like this, it’s a victory,” Nelms said. “I think it’s a bonus to have greater accountability and a checks-and-balances process when we’re talking about such large sums of taxpayer dollars.”

The legislation creates an online portal that grants the public access to employee names and contract information, mass transit budget details and accident and safety information.

The bill also requires advance transit board and House and Senate committee review and approval for all proposed mass transit employee contracts exceeding $100,000 a year. It requires similar review and approval before awarding any employee a bonus exceeding 10 percent.

“Many Illinois workers and families rely on public transportation to get them to and from work every day,” Quinn said in a statement. “The law I signed today helps keep our public transit agencies efficient and reliable – and ensures that Illinois residents throughout the state have access to dependable public transportation.”

State Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, was the primary sponsor of the bill on the Senate side and said the law will help cut down on agency corruption and questionable ethics – including patronage and fraudulent money handling.

“Mass transit in the Chicago area has struggled with governance, regional planning and transparency for many decades,” Biss said in a press release. “This world-class region deserves a world-class transportation network, not a scandal-plagued patchwork of agencies and we can only get there by breaking down barriers that hamper coordination and allow unethical behavior to continue.”

The bill enjoyed wide bipartisan sponsorship, with three Democrat and two Republican Senate sponsors and three Republican and two Democrat sponsors in the House.

State Rep. Al Riley, D-Hazel Crest, was the primary House sponsor of the legislation and said he hopes more reform is coming mass transit’s way.

“This is the first bill of many which will transform the way mass transit is managed in Northern Illinois,” Riley said in a statement. “It is critical that the public can trust the day-to-day operations of our publicly funded transit agencies and know they are ethical and transparent.”

The law passed nearly unanimously out of both the House and Senate chambers.

“The Law will help ensure that Illinois’ several mass transit agencies uphold the public’s trust and interests at all times,” the governor’s office said.

The new law pertains to the CTA, RTA, PACE and METRA agencies, and takes effect July 1, 2015.

By Brady Cremens – Illinois News Network – August 25, 2014

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