The CTA has eliminated 54 top white-collar jobs, all except three already vacant, in a cost-cutting move ordered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel for city agencies to slash 10 percent of senior management positions, transit officials said today.

The staffing reductions account for about $7.6 million of the $15 million that the CTA will save annually, officials said. Cutting expenses on materials, utilities and contracts, along with delaying hiring for open positions that have been deemed necessary, make up the rest of the savings.

CTA president Forrest Claypool said the chronically cash-strapped agency cannot wait until next year’s budget to start cutting.
 
Although the CTA is almost halfway through 2011 with a balanced budget, it is based on the assumption that the state will honor its commitment to catch up on almost $400 million in late payments owed to the Regional Transportation Authority. Some $98.3 million of the total is owed to the CTA, officials said.

The belt-tightening announced Monday will have “no adverse effect on the current level and quality of service provided to customers,” Claypool said.

The move, however, raises questions about why the managerial streamlining wasn’t done earlier by Claypool’s predecessor, Richard Rodriguez.

Twenty-six of the 54 eliminated CTA positions announced Monday were at the manager level, leaving the CTA with 234 such positions left among its total staffing of 9,377 full-time-equivalent positions, said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. Approximately 90 percent of CTA positions are unionized.

The 28 other non-union positions eliminated were at management or equivalent levels, and all were recently made vacant, Gaffney said.

The CTA has about 1,476 fewer full-time-equivalent positions than it did in 2007, officials said.

The 2012 CTA budget is being developed, Claypool said, but several short-term solutions used to balance the budget in past years, including loans to carry over the CTA until late state subsidies are provided, will no longer be options, Claypool said.

The RTA has reached its borrowing limit, and RTA executive director Joseph Costello warned last week that service cuts at the CTA, Metra and Pace may be unavoidable if the state fails to start making payments of at least $40 million a month to whittle down the huge balance it owes the RTA system.

Under a borrowing deal the CTA made with Gov. Pat Quinn, the transit agency agreed not to raise fares through at least 2011. But the agreement was contingent on the state paying the money it owed the CTA.

Claypool has declined to say whether he will raise fares. In 2010, the CTA cut bus service by 18 percent and reduced rail service by 9 percent.

Claypool did say, shortly after he was appointed to the CTA by Emanuel, that the transit agency must stop siphoning off much-needed capital-improvement funds to shore up the operating budget. The CTA has a backlog of about $7 billion in capital repairs and system modernization that it cannot afford to do.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com