SFMTA Board Approves Two-Year Budget by 4-3 Vote; Muni Cuts Extended

1700544798_6c26575b38.jpgMuni riders warned the SFMTA Board that buses are already packed — even before 10 percent service cuts arrive in May. Flickr photo: John ‘K’

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board approved a budget for the next two fiscal years today that continues Muni service cuts into 2012, setting up a possible confrontation with the Board of Supervisors.

After close to two hours of public testimony, the board approved a $749.5 million operating budget for fiscal year 2011 (FY2011) and a $768.8 million operating budget for fiscal year 2012 (FY2012) by a 4-3 vote — without any changes to what SFMTA staff had proposed.

That means the 10 percent Muni service cuts the board approved in February to balance the agency’s budget through the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, will now extend into fiscal year 2011. Half that service will be restored in fiscal year 2012 under the plan.

But today’s vote is far from the final word on the budget. Next, it will go to the Board of Supervisors for approval, where it’s likely to meet a cold reception from progressives, who have insisted the SFMTA reverse the service cuts. If they balk at the budget, it could set up a back-and-forth between the supervisors and the SFMTA similar to the budget process a year ago.

Just a month ago, it appeared the agency faced projected budget deficits of at least $52.7 million for FY2011 and $45.3 million for FY2012 — even after cutting close to $30 million in service, or about 10 percent. That eased up considerably when news came in last month that the SFMTA would receive $36 million in state transit aid next year, and $31.5 million in FY2012.

Combined with cuts already made to balance the deficit in the current year, as well as an improving economic picture forecasted for FY2012, the agency quickly had a much less gargantuan deficit to cover.

"This two-year budget has no fare increase in the coming fiscal year," said SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford, looking on the bright side. It "assumes a restoring of half of the 10 percent scheduled changes."

But the windfall from the state also took pressure off the agency to look at revenue streams that face opposition from Mayor Gavin Newsom and other groups, including extending parking meter enforcement hours and consolidating bus stops. Many of the speakers today lamented that, with state funds flowing in, the agency didn’t continue to aggressively seek new funds and reduce work orders from other departments before cutting service.

The chamber was packed with members of the public, many of them wearing headsets for translation of the meeting into Cantonese or Spanish. Dozens were members of a coalition of groups including Community Tenants Association, the Chinatown Community Development Center, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), and the Chinese Progressive Association. The ANSWER Coalition also turned out numerous speakers.

Those groups addressed a theme of avoiding service cuts to the most transit-dependent neighborhoods, especially Chinatown and the Mission. Several speakers also criticized the SFMTA for paying the police department for some duties that the agency already performs itself, including fare inspection.

"I urge you not to balance the budget deficit on the back of low-income transit dependent neighborhoods," said CTA President Hoi Chong Wong. For most Chinatown residents, he said, transit "is a necessity, not a choice."

More Attention for the Mayor

In the wake of last week’s SF Weekly cover story, which detailed the Mayor’s heavy-handed involvement in the SFMTA budget, many of the speakers pointed to the Mayor’s culpability in the service cuts.

Cutting service while seeking to increase transit ridership "makes the Mayor and you all, as his appointees, hypocrites," San Francisco Transit Riders Union organizer Dave Snyder said. He also handed out a series of budget proposals to avoid service cuts.

Two of the three dissenting votes on the budget came from directors whose terms expire at the end of the month — James McCray and Shirley Breyer Black. The third came from Bruce Oka, who has given impassioned speeches against service cuts and fare hikes in the last few months, but perhaps cast his most defiant vote today.

"I thought today I was going to hold my nose and vote for this, but I may not be able to," Oka said to applause from the chamber.

"I cannot sit by anymore and watch full bus after full bus after full bus pass up people waiting in wheelchairs."

The Mayor has asked directors to leave for much lesser acts of defiance in the past, so Oka’s vote added some genuine drama to a day that otherwise followed a fairly close script.

Director Malcolm Heinicke, who voted for the budget, said the agency should be holding hearings at every meeting to determine how to fully restore service. "I think this has to be the [priority] of this agency over the next two months," he said.

  • Heinicke, parking meters?

    This budget is a shame. This board is a shame. Transit first is a shame.

  • Katherine Roberts

    You mean a sham, Mike, right?

  • There was no “windfall” for Muni. Please stop using this misleading term. The governor let a few bucks go back to transit after illegally looting all agencies for years (with a collaborationist Democrat legislature). What little money came back was not enough to replace what was taken, and now we’ve lost the gas tax formula permanently.

    Don’t let the mainstream media contaminate you with their ready adoption of doublespeak spin.

    As for the MTA, it’s clear that Newsom and the board don’t really care and that Overpaid Nate Ford has done more to destroy the agency than most CEOs. Time for him to go, and time for a reset button on the agency. At this point we’ll have the worst of all worlds — all the while San Franciscans run aroung smug in their alleged “Green” lifestyles, all the while carrying pink plastic bags to their cars.

  • Katherine, yeah. My mistake. Between the MTA taking a crap on our city and the girl upstairs pounding around like an 800 lb elephant – I can’t think straight anymore.

    And I agree with Greg, it is not a “windfall”, we got robbed and they are throwing the change back at us because they are too lazy to carry it around.

  • Michael Rhodes

    @Greg: Absolutely true that the state aid is just a fraction of what was taken illegally from local transit agencies. Still, it’s more money than the MTA will save through its massive service cuts (about $28M), so I’d call it significant. Even more significant is that the MTA didn’t use the $36 million next year to reverse service cuts.

  • Ugh. We need, among other things, a mayoral candidate in the next election running explicitly on a Transit-First platform. Or better yet, all of them.

  • Aaron, just send an email to Bevan Dufty, he’ll be transit first for you. Well, until someone asks him not to be, then he won’t. But if you ask again, he’ll probably switch back. You know, until…

    Michael, I see your point but we still got robbed. And yes, it is much more significant that they aren’t using the money to reverse the cuts. My only guess is that the SFMTA needs to reduce service enough that the FTA won’t halt central subway funding because of expected operational cost impacts. Otherwise, I haven’t heard a better reason to continue to slash service and raise fares. Well, besides the fact that our mayor is all talk.

  • Restoring service isn’t as easy as applying the $36 million in reduced state funding and everything will be ok, we’ve dug ourselves a much deep hole than that.

    Year after year of accident damage, headcount reductions in maintenance, deferred maintenance and the increasing costs of repairing ill-maintained vehicles, etc. leave us without enough working vehicles to operate more than the reduced schedule like Muni Metro which has had at least 10% fewer trains pulling out than scheduled every day this month.

  • So Jamison, does that mean we’ll have 10% cuts on top of these “10% cuts” we’ve already faced? And is MUNI already running pretty much every train/bus it can right now? If one breaks down, then that route is just a train/bus short until it is fixed because nothing else is sitting in the yard ready to go?

  • James Figone

    @mikesonn: your guess regarding the central subway sounds plausible. It is interesting to note that they really did not try very hard to avoid service cuts given the available additional revenue options as proposed by SPUR and SFTRU.

    It would pretty earth shaking if it indeed service is being cut in order to allow central subway construction by meeting FTA requirements.

  • My only guess is that the SFMTA needs to reduce service enough that the FTA won’t halt central subway funding because of expected operational cost impacts.

    Bingo.

    Your public servants. Paid for by your tax dollars and fares. Working full-time to bolster PBQD’s bottom line.

  • I encourage everyone to head over to http://www.fixmuninow.com/ and to help collect petition signatures to at least take one step towards reigning in MUNI’s costs …

  • Nick

    Here’s a tip to help Dave Snyder and his organization:

    Request that MTA print “San Francisco is a Transit-First city” on the face of every Fast Pass and transfer. That should awaken quite a few people.

  • Nick, they have plenty of room now that they aren’t printing the price on the passes. Plus, everybody could use a good laugh while waiting for the bus that’ll never come.

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