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Quinn vetoes mass transit contracts bill

CHICAGO – Gov. Pat Quinn rejected a bill Tuesday that would have allowed Illinois' mass transit agencies to spend more on projects without giving public notice or going through a bidding process, a decision the Chicago Democrat indirectly linked to a hiring scandal at Metra.

The legislation would have increased the no-bid limit to $40,000 from $10,000. But in his veto message Quinn said there are major problems with public transportation in the Chicago region. He then plugged his recently formed task force that is coming up with reforms for Metra as the commuter rail agency deals with fallout from allegations of improper dealings with politicians.

Quinn's panel, which includes former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, will also look at the Regional Transit Authority that oversees Metra, PACE and the Chicago Transit Authority.

"It is clear that the current mass transit governance system in Northeastern Illinois is not working for taxpayers and riders," Quinn said in the written veto message.

The bill was originally aimed at PACE, which provides bus service in Chicago's suburbs, according to a bill sponsor, state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan. He said the bill was intended to update limits that were set in state statute decades ago and keep up with inflation.

He and co-sponsor state Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat, said the bidding process can also take months and slow down repairs and projects. However, Link said Tuesday that he understood Quinn's efforts and would not move to override his decision.

"The things that are going on with Metra, I can't disagree with the veto of the governor," Link said.

On Tuesday, Metra's board of directors named Don Orseno interim executive director.

The previous CEO, Alex Clifford, resigned in June, saying he was forced out for resisting pressure from politicians, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, over personnel and contract decisions. Madigan has denied wrongdoing.

The accusations have prompted investigations by the state's inspector general and a House ethics panel. They also led some lawmakers to call Clifford's $718,000 severance deal "hush money." Five of Metra's 11 board members resigned in the wake of allegations.

Orseno, who is operations chief and started at Metra in 1984, has worked in the rail industry for four decades in positions ranging from locomotive engineer to senior management. In a statement, the agency said Orseno's "no-nonsense approach will move Metra forward."

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