Against a bleak funding outlook, the board that oversees the Chicago area's mass transit agencies today rejected a proposed public relations contract totaling up to $1.7 million to try to squeeze tens of billions of dollars out of Washington.
The Regional Transportation Authority board voted down the contract with ASGK Public Strategies LLC to develop a funding campaign aimed at renewing transit infrastructure at the CTA, Metra and Pace to a state of good repair.
ASGK was co-founded by Chicago political strategist David Axelrod, who is President Barack Obama's chief political advisor.
The proposed deal followed RTA approval in October of a $45,000 no-bid PR contract with Hill & Knowlton Inc., in part to educate lawmakers about the need to update and maintain transit facilities to a state of good repair. That contract expired and has produced no clear benefits.
The CTA, Metra and Pace need $24.6 billion over currently anticipated capital funding in the next 10 years to elevate the system to good repair, RTA officials said.
That's three times higher than the projected federal funding expected to be awarded over the next decade, officials said.
Congressional passage of new multi-year federal highway and mass transit spending legislation is not expected before the November election.
In addition, there is deep division along party lines in Congress over transportation funding levels, due to concerns about the federal debt and budget crises.
Several RTA board members questioned why rush ahead to spend money on public relations now.
RTA chairman John Gates Jr. said passing the contract would set the table for federal legislation expected in 2013.
"It's really all about timing," Gates said.
But RTA board member William Coulson and others disagreed.
"This is like going to the craps table with the public's money," Coulson said.