Newsom Speaks Out on MTA Budget; Vote to Reject Hinges on Maxwell

newsom.jpgMayor Gavin Newsom and wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom (left) at a ceremony Monday honoring teachers. Newsom spoke to reporters about the MTA budget after the event.
On the eve of a possible rejection of the MTA's budget by the Board of Supervisors over widely unpopular fare hikes and service cuts, Mayor Gavin Newsom told reporters at City Hall that he is not playing a game of chicken, and hopes supervisors do not "make the mistake" of approving the motion by BOS Prez David Chiu.  

"It will be devastating to the impact of our general fund money," said Newsom, who has been accused by some advocates of using scare tactics in the debate over the MTA budget. "They haven’t even seen the total budget yet they increase the total budget deficit by 30 million dollars and I don’t think that’s going to help anyone." (Hear raw audio of his remarks to reporters below).

Sources involved in the negotiations, however, say the MTA has not made any changes to the budget since last week's Budget and Finance Committee meeting, which means the Board of Supes will today consider approving Chiu's motion to reject the $778 million spending plan as it was presented. Chiu had hoped the MTA would "sharpen its pencils" and come back with a better budget.

"There is a voter mandate and moral covenant to the voters that we are committed to a 21st century transit and transportation system and we're not prepared to abrogate that," said David Noyola, an aide to Chiu.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty will not vote for the motion, a reversal of his earlier vote on the budget committee, leaving Supervisor Sophie Maxwell as the swing. Contacted by Streetsblog San Francisco late last night, Maxwell said she will "possibly" be voting to reject the budget, but is still considering it. Chronicle reporter Rachel Gordon wrote that the Mayor's office would likely put "the full court press" on Maxwell, who had been listed as a co-sponsor.

Dufty has also been feeling heat from the Mayor's office and said in a brief interview this morning that he feels the motion "is going to create more discord in a very, very difficult year." He said he's confident MTA Chief Nat Ford will be able to make some enhancements within the 5 percent of the budget he has discretion over.

"I think that while the dollar amounts aren't large the issues are significant. Whether it's the Lifeline pass, whether it's rolling back the youth and senior fares, whether it's trying to provide some enhancements to the TEP or getting a little more angle on the work orders. There's some good things to be done, but right now I feel this resolution is really unfortunately going to upend us moving forward with the budget."

The five expected to vote in favor of the motion with Chiu are Supervisors David Campos, Ross Mirkarimi, John Avalos, Eric Mar and Chris Daly. A total of seven votes are needed.

A rejection would mean $30 million from the general fund would be directed to the MTA to subsidize its operations at current levels, staving off fare hikes and route eliminations. City attorneys, however, are still trying to clarify the language in the City Charter because it would be the first time the Board has voted to reject the budget since Proposition E was passed in 1999. The measure established the MTA and the MTA Board. The charter states:

Should the Board reject the budget, it shall make additional interim appropriations to the Agency from the Municipal Transportation Fund sufficient to permit the Agency to maintain all operations through the extended interim period until a budget is adopted.
The thinking behind this language was apparently to safeguard Muni service and prevent the transit system from grinding to a halt over a budget showdown. It appears less likely the MTA Board will convene and approve a new budget, so the $30 million will make up for the cost savings the MTA was hoping to achieve through fare hikes and service reductions.

The Mayor, speaking to reporters following a ceremony honoring local principals and teachers, said he has spent the last five days working almost exclusively on the MTA budget. 

“It’s very easy to oppose this budget. I would love to oppose this budget. Nothing would make me more pleased than to oppose the budget but at the end of the day you have an absence of options and a climate where you have declining revenue and serious state cuts that put us in this position and we have to submit a balanced budget. I don’t have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and talking about the way the world should be."

Responding to a question from Streetsblog San Francisco about why Sunday and evening parking enforcement was taken off the table, Newsom said "the collective wisdom" from supervisors he spoke to was that those items should be eliminated.

When asked what he thinks about the fact that Muni riders are paying more than drivers in this budget (estimates say the ratio is 4 to 1), Newsom responded that's only true "when the budget is taken out of context" and argued that over the years "it's been fairly balanced."

"Look at what we’ve done in the last few years. There have been dramatic increases in parking, fines and fees related to automobile use. So, you have to look at the totality of the last few years and I think assess it in proportion to what’s happened over the years, not in isolation," said Newsom.

Hear the Mayor's entire remarks to reporters here: 

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Updated 10:31 a.m.