Is Progressive Supes' Muni Amendment Just a Bargaining Chip?

Old Muni car.jpg
Like this old train, many elements of yesterday's sweeping Muni charter amendment were things we've seen before...
The Charter Amendment yesterday introduced by a quartet of progressive supervisors would essentially tear apart the way the Municipal Transportation Agency is run and sew it back together. It's a fascinating notion-- though whether it'd make life better for the financially strapped agency and its put-upon riders is the multi-million dollar question. It's one thing to draw up a transit schedule. It's another to see it carried out.

We couldn't help but notice, however, that a number of Supervisors David Campos, David Chiu, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi's suggestions look awfully familiar. Just as the quartet intimated last week when they pontificated upon a harsh audit of Muni -- and before, if you chatted with them about transit for more than 20 seconds -- they want in on the Municipal Transportation Agency Board.

Rather than allow Mayor Gavin Newsom to appoint all seven board members, the supes are now proposing the exact same plan  former Board President Aaron Peskin pushed to SF Weekly in our recent cover story on Muni: Three appointments from the board, three from the mayor, and the last a compromise between the board prez and mayor ("How's that for fair's fair?" is how Peskin put it). 

The other rather familiar element of the progressive supes' Muni plan is a proposal to do away with the locked-in, City Charter-enshrined formula that determines Muni drivers' salaries, instead mandating them to engage in collective bargaining like every other union. You may be feeling a sense of déjà vu here because that's the very heart of Supervisor Sean Elsbernd's "Fix Muni Now" charter amendment.

Muni logo.jpg
It's clear the Transportation Workers Union is on thin ice even with union-friendly -- some would say "beholden" -- supes in the progressive camp. Yet it's not clear at all that getting Muni drivers' salary structure out of the city charter -- a bizarre situation -- is a make-it-or-break-it detail for the progs. If this amendment spurred short-term concessions by the TWU, it's entirely possible that portion could be dropped to appease the Muni drivers' union by the July 20 legislative deadline. That's certainly how Campos put it when we spoke with him late Tuesday. "We need to address the labor issue. From our perspective, this is the beginning of a conversation," he said. "We're open to discussions with labor. I don't know, at this point, that we're wedded to any" elements of the charter.

Not so for Elsbernd. He's made it clear that getting Muni drivers' salaries out of the city charter is his non-negotiable mission. He'll see it through to the end.

Elsbernd, whom we also reached late on Tuesday, also wondered if the progs' amendment is merely a hardball bargaining chip with the TWU -- or the mayor, for that matter, whose office is predictably apoplectic over this amendment: "I won't believe this is real until we vote." He also complained it may disrupt the ongoing signature gathering for his "Fix Muni Now" amendment. 

Other elements of the progs' Muni amendment:

  • Provide $40 million in additional funds to Muni via set-asides from property tax revenue (who loses via Muni's potential gain has not yet been determined -- unless the supes see fit to add $40 million more to the city's $720 million and change in projected general fund debt next year. "That's something we have to work out," admits Campos.);

  • Require only six votes to spurn Muni's budget at the Board of Supervisors instead of seven;

  • Require the supes' approval for any service cuts of 5 percent or more;

  • Establish the position of MTA Inspector General to "conduct audits and analyses, receive and investigate complaints of fraud, waste or abuse of MTA resoureces, prevent fraud, waste and abuse..."
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