By Ray Long
Generous health care and pensions will go by the wayside for future political appointees overseeing the Chicago area's local bus and train service, but the current officeholders will get to keep the benefits until they are reappointed to new terms.
The ban on lucrative perks for the next round of board members at scandal-plagued Metra and other transit agencies took effect when Gov. Pat Quinn's signed legislation Tuesday.
"Especially considering the recent problems at Metra, Gov. Quinn does not think it's appropriate to be providing gold-plated pensions for these part-time appointed positions," said Brooke Anderson, Quinn's spokeswoman.
Future board members of the CTA, Pace and the Regional Transportation Authority also will be affected.
Sponsoring Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said he has been on a years long quest to get rid of health coverage for active and retired transit board members but called Quinn's bill signing appropriately timed because of the ongoing Metra controversy.
"These are political patronage appointees with no accountability and no qualifications," Franks said.
The high-profile Metra mess centers on the $718,000 severance package for ousted CEO Alex Clifford. He leveled allegations in a memo that he lost his job after refusing to go along with patronage requests from House Speaker Michael Madigan, including one to give a taxpayer-funded raise to a longtime member of his political army. Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, has denied any wrongdoing and encouraged an investigation.
Clifford resigned last month after agreeing to the severance package, which is worth more than three times his annual salary. The deal came three months after Clifford privately accused Metra board members of retaliating against him because he did not capitulate to patronage demands.
The benefits law, which takes effect immediately, means that future board appointees will be unable to cash in like those now serving on the boards. And if any current officeholders accept reappointments, they will lose the transit agency benefits they had accrued. Legal impediments prevented the state from eliminating the benefits of current board members, Franks said.
Sponsoring Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, said there is no reason to be paying pensions "for political appointees of political friends."
(c)2013 Chicago Tribune