Finally, a shortfall CTA and RTA can all agree on

Officials tomorrow could put to rest a multimillion-dollar discrepancy between Chicago's two largest transit agencies.

In February, officials at the Regional Transportation Authority said they were surprised when they heard the Chicago Transit Authority's budget shortfall for last year would be $87 million. The RTA, which funds the CTA, estimated that the deficit would be closer to $58 million.

Now, with a new president at the CTA and three months into the new year, fourth-quarter results from 2008 have arrived. Officials at the RTA have said the figures should provide a definitive answer regarding last year's deficit, and they plan to review them at a board meeting tomorrow.

RTA officials downplayed the $29 million difference as small change amid multimillion-dollar budgets. But the timing of the announcement, nearly two months after the end of 2008, and the fact that the agencies were unaware of each other's estimates, led to questions about how well officials were communicating.

Even without the discrepancy, the figures were jarring. They were proof that the national economic downturn had hit Chicago's transit agencies hard during the last half of 2008. Together with this year's $155 million shortfall projection, the CTA's two-year deficit amounts to more than $200 million.

Tomorrow's meeting is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at 175 W. Jackson Boulevard, Suite 1550.

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