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Bevan Dufty

Can the Board of Supes Still Force a Better MTA Budget?

8:35 AM PDT on May 14, 2009

budget_and_finance_committee.jpgBudget and Finance Committee file photo by Bryan Goebel

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee voted for a second time Wednesday to reject the MTA budget and send it back to the full Board. It followed a narrow vote by the full Board Tuesday to table BOS Prez David Chiu's original rejection motion, following a "compromise" reached at the last minute to put $10.3 million in revenue and cost savings back into Muni's budget.

The 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Carmen Chu dissenting, followed a lengthy discussion in which Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos and Ross Mirkirami argued that the MTA budget was still woefully unacceptable, with all agreeing the rejection motion was the only way to get the MTA to budge some more. A procedural move at the last meeting allowed members to consider the motion again.

"We were able to get to where we got to yesterday because we had a measure before us calling for the rejection of the MTA budget," said Avalos. "I do think that we live in a political world and need to have this rejection measure before us in order to be able build the kind of pressure we might need to get some more changes."

Avalos said if there was anything flawed about the process over the last week it was that supervisors weren't being specific enough about changes and ideas they wanted to see in the budget, instead only criticizing what they thought was wrong with it. 

"I think if we have a process where we can come to some agreements that are specific and take those to the MTA and the Mayor and use the next week to discuss that somewhat further, we might be able to make a few other changes that can alleviate perhaps fare increases [and] service cuts that are alarming.”

Dufty, however, warned that continuing the debate over the MTA budget would unravel the Board of Supervisor's ability to reach an agreement on the city's budget. He refused to call the result of Chiu's negotiations with the MTA and the Mayor's office a compromise, instead referring to it as "adjustments in the budget." 

“There is a lot of anger out here, but let’s be real about it. We can’t make everyone happy," he said. "There’s no way you can cobble together the discontent across this city with our budget, specifically about the Muni budget, which frankly is in better shape than the city budget is."

After the budget committee's vote, Chiu told Streetsblog San Francisco he doesn't "expect any movement on this. I mean, we voted on exactly the same item yesterday."

In an interview shortly before the vote, he said: “I think the agreement that was reached was the best possible deal we could have gotten given the enormous financial and budgetary constraints that we’re under right now. $10.3 million dollars for Muni riders, I think, is a really good thing.”

Rather than caving in to the Mayor's office, as some advocates have suggested, City Hall sources say Chiu failed to secure Supervisor Sophie Maxwell's vote on the rejection motion, despite an intense lobbying effort, and felt the 11th hour compromise was second best.

Mirkarimi told Streetsblog he understands the politics behind the move but added: “I think that when we look at the aggregate budget deficit before us I think it would be highly premature for us to close the case on the MTA.”

Campos agreed that given the harsh feedback he's hearing from his constituents he feels compelled to do everything he can to force more changes in the MTA budget.

“There are still a lot of outstanding issues and I think that the people of my district, that the people who ride Muni on a daily basis, expect us to do better and I think that we have an obligation to do our best.”

Under the city charter, the Board of Supes has the power to accept or reject the MTA budget, but not to make line item changes. The rejection motion is expected to be considered again at next Tuesday's meeting, which is also the first time the MTA Board will meet since it passed its $778 million budget.

Updated 10:50 a.m.

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