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Despite Public Sparring, Supes and Mayor Move Closer on SFMTA Budget

IMG_2074.jpgSFMTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan spoke before the Board of Supervisors today. Photo: Michael Rhodes

The war of words between the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor's office -- with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in the middle -- intensified today, even as the parties appear to be inching towards similar solutions for restoring half of the Muni service that was slashed earlier this month.

At a meeting of the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee today, SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford told the supervisors it would take about $11 to $12 million to restore half that service by September 1. Several of the supervisors have vowed to reject the two-year budget approved by the SFMTA Board last month if the service isn't restored, and certain revenue measures -- like extended parking meter enforcement hours -- have split the Mayor and the supervisors.

But both parties support covering the gap through concessions from the Muni operators union and through a one-time $7 million appropriation from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which the supervisors control. You wouldn't know the parties shared much common ground from a statement sent out by the Mayor's office today, however.

"Members of the Board of Supervisors should end the political grandstanding
and join in being part of the solution," the statement reads. "Stop holding $7 million hostage to conditions you know cannot be met. Release the funds to the SFMTA and join
us in helping to restore the service cuts."

The Board of Supervisors approved the appropriation on the condition that the SFMTA restore half the service that was cut. The supervisors have suggested that partial service restoration could be paid for through extending parking meter enforcement hours, reducing work orders, or operator concessions.

The Mayor's not fond of the first two ideas, but his statement does urge the operators to approve salary and benefit concessions that were previously voted down. The operators should "step up and join every other labor union in San Francisco by ratifying the $14 million in labor concessions their leadership agreed to several months ago," the Mayor said in the statement. "These two acts alone would immediately reverse nearly three fourths of the $28.8 million in service cuts."

During the meeting today, several of the supervisors cried foul, arguing that they support exactly that plan. Chiu said he met with the Mayor yesterday, and was surprised that he sent out a statement suggesting the supervisors weren't cooperating. "What he has proposed is, frankly, what we have all been talking about for weeks and weeks and weeks," said Chiu. "I'm glad the Mayor has agreed with us as to the path forward. We are ready to go."

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi was less generous. "It's complete bullshit," he said, later apologizing for the profanity. "[What we're proposing] is completely consistent with what the Mayor would like."

But the supervisors weren't the only ones offended today. SFMTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan bristled at being called a "rubber stamp board" by the supervisors. "That's not particularly helpful," said Nolan, who testified before the supervisors today. "I think we have a much more positive relationship."

That came after the supervisors grilled Nolan and SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford on the results a Controller's Office audit, which faulted the SFMTA Board for, among other things, rarely publicly discussing Muni's large overtime budget. The SFMTA accounts for about 44 percent of overall overtime costs in the city, but the audit found SFMTA Board minutes for the past two years did not include a single reference to a discussion of an overtime report.

"Shouldn't we worry about that, that in overseeing the $750 million operation that essentially accounts for the largest amount of overtime for the city, that the Board of Directors wouldn't have it on its agenda and discuss it as part of its agenda?" Supervisor David Campos asked Nolan.

The supervisors will hold off on voting on the SFMTA budget until at least June 2, when they'll consider it at another Budget and Finance Committee meeting. Campos pushed for rejecting the budget today, but Supervisor John Avalos argued that would take away the supervisors' leverage to negotiate with the SFMTA on a revised budget before their August 1 deadline to approve or reject it.

"We do need [the transit operators union] to step up as the rest of labor has done," said Avalos, "but by rejecting the MTA budget this early on, it takes us right out of the equation about how the Board of Supervisors can use our relationships to make it happen."

Whether the supervisors, the Mayor, and labor leaders can mend those relationships by June 2 could determine just how long Muni riders have to wait to see service levels restored.

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