Supervisors try to soften painful Muni cuts

May 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's special election vote, the state is in a crisis that's already having a severe impact on cities and counties. For example, San Francisco's Muni system faces an additional $14 million deficit, and supervisors are right now trying to soften the blow of a likely increase in fares.

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A huge chunk of Muni's newly projected deficit is directly connected to the state's financial problems. Last week the proposed Muni budget seemed safe, but perhaps not now.

The new projections show Muni's deficit may be about $14 million more than the anticipated $129 million shortfall for the next fiscal year. Muni executive director Nathaniel Ford says much of the revenue loss is tied to expected state cuts.

"We estimate that impact to be approximately $7 million on the MTA's budget," said Ford.

Muni expects Sacramento to take more property tax money from city coffers, especially if the statewide ballot measures lose. That would affect Muni because it gets some of its money from the city's general fund.

Last Tuesday, the supervisors struck a last-minute deal that ended a threat by the board to reject the $766 million budget proposal. Under the compromise, a hike in the monthly fast pass for seniors, disabled and minors would be pushed back another year. But Muni would still raise fares and cut back many of its routes. Supervisor John Avalos wanted the board to reconsider and reject the budget on Tuesday.

"The current budget we have proposed is balanced mostly on the backs of riders. We want to have a more equitable approach," said Avalos.

Avalos would reduce the deficit by putting more of the burden on motorists. He would increase parking rates at city garages, expand parking meter hours from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and order more street cleaning in hopes of getting more parking ticket revenues.

The debate to reject the budget proposal continued for hours. Ford said he was willing to consider options in light of the newly projected deficit, but he won't budge on some things.

"It's not our plan to increase fares any higher than what we've already discussed and/or reduce service any further," said Ford.

The upshot is that the supervisors voted to continue discussion of the Muni budget until next week. On Wednesday, the supervisors will hold a special meeting just to discuss the Muni budget.

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