Budget Update Taken Off Agenda for Today’s MTA Board Meeting

Although the MTA is facing a growing budget deficit that some estimate at $25-30 million or higher, the agency has not publicly talked about how it intends to close the gap, nor has it embraced revenue generators like expanded parking meter hours in commercial districts. An update of the FY 2010 budget was agendized last Friday for today's MTA board meeting, but the item was subsequently removed, MTA spokesperson Judson True confirmed.

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In an interview last week, MTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan told Streetsblog the agency was likely to face a $30 million deficit, a large chunk of that from the sale of taxi medallions, which the MTA had budgeted to bring in $15 million. 

True wouldn't elaborate on why the budget item had been removed from today's agenda, despite repeated requests for an explanation. He offered only vagaries: "We continue to have ongoing financial problems. We're still crunching numbers and there are a lot of conversations being had."

When asked if the MTA was getting pressure from Mayor Gavin Newsom not to present the budget deficit item because of Newsom's opposition to extending meter hours, True responded, "not to my knowledge." He added, "The mayor is making public statements and we're listening to that, just as we're listening to the Board of Supervisors and the public."

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu's office was more candid. "We stand in the same frustrated place we did about a month ago," said Chiu's spokesperson, David Noyola. "Everybody knows there's a problem; there are no appetizing solutions. It's either figure out a place to find revenue or find a way to reduce expenditure and cost."

On the issue of mayoral pressure on the MTA, Noyola said, "You have an executive branch that is understandably sheepish about the reaction [to the parking study] and they have publicly said they're opposed." He said he would not speculate whether Newsom's office was pressuring the MTA behind the scenes.

Livable City Executive Director and BART Board Director Tom Radulovich said BART was moving to address its $20 million projected deficit proactively, before it becomes a bigger problem, and so should the MTA. "If MTA is running a big budget deficit, they absolutely should be talking about it. If they're running a budget deficit and projecting a shortfall the following year, then not talking about [it] will intensify the problem the following year."

Radulovich also said he had no confidence that Newsom would do what's needed to keep Muni from suffering more service cuts. "Will the Mayor let Muni go down the tubes? I think the answer is probably yes. He hasn't shown any initiative raising money for the MTA. [Proposition E, which merged the Department of Parking and Traffic with Muni in 1999] says he shall 'diligently seek new revenue sources for Muni.' In terms of him diligently seeking new revenue sources, I haven't seen it."

Noyola suggested that a conversation about extending parking meters should happen, particularly because the MTA completed its parking study with due diligence. "We considered parking meters in a vacuum, now we need to hear it in context. One of the ways to force the issue is to have a public hearing."

Noyola said his office is considering holding a hearing to shed light on the MTA's budget situation, a solution Supervisor John Avalos committed to do if Chiu did not. In an interview with Streetsblog last week, Avalos said, "They have a growing budget deficit that they need to move on. Any inaction is going to see that deficit continue to grow." He added that he would hold the MTA accountable in the same way he did in May when the budget issue was last debated.

Radulovich suggested that the problem is endemic of the formative structure of the MTA and might not be resolved without a fundamental restructuring of the agency, something Livable City supported in 2007 with Proposition A. He suggested San Francisco should seriously consider how well the agency is serving the city and whether or not its charter needs another revision.

"The lack of accountability is a real structural problem," he said. "When the MTA does something that could cause acute political pain, the answer is always 'don't do it.' On the other hand, when the MTA runs down, it doesn't stick to anyone.  There's this political distancing that goes on, especially from the Mayor's office." 

"MTA's 10th Anniversary is this November," he added. "I think it's a good time to look at what's working and what's not working."

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors meeting is today at 2 p.m. San Francisco City Hall, room 400. The parking study presentation is item 14 on the agenda. The meeting will be broadcast online on SFGTV2.  Here's more info on who to contact to voice your support for the parking study. You can also send feedback to extendedhours@sfmta.com.