The Board of Supervisors doesn’t get to vote on Muni service cuts or worker layoffs, but today Supervisor David Campos exercised one of the options the supervisors do have for influencing Muni by calling for an audit of some of the MTA’s practices.
Campos’ call for an audit came during a special hearing before a Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee on the Muni budget situation. After the supervisors questioned MTA spokesperson Judson True on the layoffs, most of which are effective Friday, Campos said he wasn’t certain the MTA had fully considered concerns brought up by representatives of SEIU, the union hit hardest by the cuts.
"What troubles me about where we are with respect to what SEIU has proposed is that, with all due respect, I’m not fully convinced that enough consideration was given to many of these points before you came to the MTA Board or to this Board to talk about some of the very drastic things that we’re talking about," Campos told True.
In a press conference before the hearing and during the hearing’s public comment period, members of SEIU questioned whether laying off parking control officers (PCOs) was economical, and expressed concerns about public health impacts that could result from laying off 10 car cleaners. During the meeting, Supervisor Chris Daly screened a video of the
insides of Muni buses covered in graffiti and strewn with vomit and
needles to emphasize the importance of the car cleaners’ work.
SEIU organizer Robert Haaland pointed to the MTA’s plan to spend $6 million on budget consultants as an example of the agency’s mismanagement. "Last month at the Civil Service Commission, MTA asked for $6 million to hire a firm to help them with budgeting," Haaland told the supervisors. "[If the MTA] can’t plan their own budget, maybe we should be laying off managers who do the planning around the budget and just hire this other firm."
As the MTA has previously maintained, True said the agency had actually seen a decline in parking citation revenue even as more PCOs were hired in recent years, prompting the agency to cut 24 positions and bank on higher citation rates from the remaining PCOs. The agency recently implemented a 30-day moratorium on the PCO layoffs to take a harder look at PCO deployment strategies.
Not fully satisfied with the MTA’s responses, Campos asked the Board of Supervisors’ budget analyst, Harvey Rose, when the MTA had last been audited. Aside from a Proof of Payment audit requested by Supervisor Bevan Dufty last year, Rose said the MTA had never been audited. The last comprehensive audit of Muni was in 1996, before the MTA existed.
Though Campos initially called for a comprehensive audit, he later scaled back to a request for a focused audit, when inquiries from Supervisor Sean Elsbernd to Rose revealed that a full audit could take six months to a year – far too long for it to be useful when the Board of Supervisors votes on currently-proposed fare increases. "It may be that we need to narrow the focus so that it’s more helpful for budgeting purposes, but I do think a review is needed," Campos said after the hearing.
Such an audit would likely focus on staffing issues. "That not only deals with overtime but also the appropriate level of staffing in terms of layoffs, in terms of who you want to layoff," said Campos. "Is it appropriate to focus on front line workers being laid off, what about the level of management staffing?"
"If we’re laying-off PCOs that actually lead to less revenue coming into the system, that’s not a good thing. … If we’re laying off people who keep the buses clean, and our buses are in the condition that some claim they are, ridership is going to go down. You already have riders who are paying a lot more and if we’re laying off people who maintain the buses, that ridership could potentially go down, which could only exacerbate the problem."
With Muni facing its second budget crisis in one year, and future budget shortfalls a near certainty, the Board of Supervisors is struggling to exert influence on an agency almost entirely controlled by the Mayor, who appoints the MTA’s entire Board. (The supervisors do vote on the agency’s two-year budgets as well as fare increases, but not on mid-year budget measures.) Campos is also working on a ballot proposal to give the Board of Supervisors control over three of the seven MTA Board seats.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi suggested that the MTA might exercise some influence via its control of the San Francisco Country Transportation Authority. "There needs to be larger reforms on the MTA," Mirkarimi said at the press conference this morning. "I hope that the Transportation Authority here in San Francisco, which is influenced by the Board of Supervisors, makes those reforms happen to the best of our ability."
Along with many of the supervisors, Mirkarimi said he doesn’t like the direction the budget is headed. "I share in the solidarity of saying that we will not tolerate these unfair and not sensible cuts the MTA is proposing."
Of course, if the supervisors do find a way to influence Muni’s budget, they’ll have to decide what alternatives they’d prefer for balancing it. Supervisor Daly called on the MTA to take a look at a "more progressive parking tax in San Francisco," while Board President David Chiu said he doesn’t care how the budget is balanced, as long as it doesn’t involve further service cuts and fare increases. "I know that there were a lot of proposals in a lot of different areas, and I am probably agnostic on everything outside of service cuts and fare increases," said Chiu. "As far as I’m concerned, everything else is on the table and should be looked at pretty closely."