The Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune laid the defeat of the bloated, ineffective transit bill at the feet of Tom Cross and the House Republicans. They argue that Cross and his Caucus are holding out for more funding for their constituents in exchange for their votes to eliminate any cuts to the CTA. The Tribune folks further argue that Cross is hurting the exact folks that he's trying to help: suburban voters. Their logic is flawed. Sure...there are plenty of folks who are using mass transit who potentially may be hurt by the cuts proposed by the Chicago Democrats and the bloated CTA, but there's more to the story.
Let's talk about strategy and why I believe the Tom Cross and the House Republicans made a great move. As a side note, I think Ron Huberman, who inherited this mess at the CTA is a good man, but he needs to bring the focus of his scapel internally before he starts crying externally. Cut some middle management out of the budget before you start cutting routes. I won't delve into that subject (as it's just a side note!) in this post, but just stick to the political implications of this standoff.
Let's fast forward a few years to 2010. There will be a Governor's race between Lisa Madigan and the GOP nominee. Now...let's just say that the nominee was Tom Cross - the House Republican Leader. Let's say that he's taking a page from Congressman Mark Kirk and his "Suburban Agenda". Where's Cross going to get his votes? Mostly from outside the City of Chicago, right? Is Lisa going to use this against him in the City with commuters? Sure she will. But, he'll be able to counter much of that with the discussion about transit not being a one-and-done issue. It requires a regional approach and the region needs road money as much as it needs mass transit money.
Cross will further be able to buttress his work for Chicago by pointing to his successes with both O'Hare and Midway Airports. Of course, Tom Cross recognizes that Chicago is THE economic engine for the State of Illinois and it needs to be supported. The O'Hare Airport expansion couldn't have happened without HGOP votes, and Cross ensured that the future of air transportation stays strong with a healthy and expanded O'Hare Airport. Transit isn't the only issue that's facing folks in Chicago. What about jobs? I know Tom Cross and his policy staff are thinking about job related issues like keeping the technology scene moving along in Chicago. That's a subject near and dear to my heart. They are working on ways to keep folks from who are interested in technology from fleeing to the West Coast. The Illinois Math and Science Academy is in Cross' district. He knows what a gem of an institution it is. He also knows that the University of Illinois in Urbana produces some of the smartest engineering minds in the land (including my very own brother-in-law Equation Boy/Man). He's going to develop policies to keep these kids in Chicago and working in the field that they love: technology. Do that, and we'll all come out ahead.
Getting back to the CTA, I know Tom Cross a bit and I know that he actually rides the CTA. Not in the Mayor Bloomberg way for show, but actually to get somewhere. When he takes his son, an avid Cubs fan to Wrigley, he rides up there from the loop on the Red Line. He attends countless dinners, meetings, and events in the great city. He isn't an ideologue who hates the city and thinks Chicago doesn't deserve the funding for mass transit, he just understands that fixing just one part of the problem is the proper solution. Doing what's right for the region is what's right for Chicago and he's going to try to ensure that the solution is comprehensive.
In the end, blocking the CTA's money grab while protecting the suburbs was a wise political move for the future for House Republican Leader Tom Cross or for any GOP leader. When he needs to, he'll have every Mayor and suburban leader championing his cause - saying he stuck up for the area's roads in the face of the Chicago Democratic Corruption Machine. His work isn't done, because he'll still loose if he gets whitewashed in the City. But...turning some of those young commuters his way is doable. By pointing to the GOP's success in Chicago with an expanded O'Hare and the votes to lead to a Midway Lease by Mayor Daley, coming up with some solid policies to keep the tech industry humming along in the city, along with a smart press, political and web strategy, he'll have it licked.