Someone's Getting Thrown Under the Bus on MTA Budget Battle. Who Will It Be?

Categories: Public Transit

Muni markup.jpg
Perhaps this graffiti artist was displeased with Muni's budget as well...
When Supervisor David Chiu last month placed an item in the Budget and Finance committee's Wednesday agenda rejecting the Municipal Transportation Authority's controversial budget, he wasn't doing it to merely test out the buttons on some new legislative assignment gizmo he found on Craigslist. In crafting such a motion even before the MTA deigned to pass a budget, Chiu presciently took the Groucho-as-Professor Quincy Waggstaff-view: "Whatever it is, I'm against it."   

And yet, Muni did not disappoint Chiu -- or, rather, it did -- and passed a budget that, in the board president's words, still allows other city departments to use "the MTA like an ATM."

"I am not interested in approving a budget where there are significant fare increases, service cuts or elimination on close to 40 of the 80 routes ... and millions of dollars are still given to other city departments," Chiu says. "Because of that, I'm not inclined to support the MTA budget at this time."

You know -- it's a persuasive argument. (But, while the palindrome of MTA and ATM is nice -- the money you take out of an ATM is ostensibly yours. Chiu and others argue that city departments are not entitled to the funds they're demanding of Muni. We prefer metaphors involving  Cossacks pillaging a helpless village -- perhaps even a "transit-first" village like our own city purports to be).

So it's no surprise how Chiu is going to vote on this matter. But can he muster up the support of six other supervisors to send MTA's budget back to the drawing board? Perhaps he can -- and he's certainly been working the phones to make his case.

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Supervisor David Chiu
First thing's first -- here's the procedural nitty gritty. The measure Chiu introduced for Wednesday's Supes' Budget and Finance Committee would give the Supes a chance to vote yea or nay on a Muni budget (a right the Supes have never before asserted). Chiu said he is "hopeful" the committee will greenlight his motion, which would allow the Supes' full board to vote on the Muni budget at its May 12 meeting.

Glancing at who sits on Budget and Finance -- we can see why Chiu is "hopeful." Along with fellow progressives John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, and David Campos (who was recently mugged on Muni) -- there's Bevan Dufty -- who convened the hearings that blew the whistle on the Muni-pillaging work orders.

Chiu told SF Weekly that he'd been having conversations with some of his moderate colleagues -- and "people do have significant concerns. The question in their minds is, 'Is this the best we can get?' We'll see on Wednesday." Indeed -- if Dufty and Carmen Chu vote for David Chiu's resolution, then it's looking like a more and more solid bet MTA's budget will go down. And if Chiu's motion doesn't pass -- then this story is over.

Dufty, for his part, played his cards close to the vest when asked how he would vote on MTA's budget, noting he still had to "listen to riders and other members of the public." But if Chiu is hoping to sell Dufty on revising the MTA budget to include charging motorists for parking meters on Sundays -- that won't work: "I'm unalterably opposed to Sunday meters; we've made it about as onerous as possible to park in this city," says Dufty

And yet, make of this Dufty statement what you will: "I choose my words carefully -- Muni funds should be used for Muni services or resources that benefit riders."

The MTA's current budget still contains $66 million in work orders headed to other departments often only tangentially connected to public transportation. Perhaps that may have to change.

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