Mayor's use of Muni money criticized

January 29, 2008 7:18:36 PM PST
It was a war of words Tuesday night between top politicians at City Hall. Mayor Gavin Newsom and the President of the Board of Supervisors are sparring over the Mayor's use of Muni money to pay salaries for his staff.

Muni is the workhorse of the Bay Area's transit systems, making nearly 700,000 trips a day. However, it's constantly running on empty. Financially, the agency's current budget deficit is more than $100 million dollars. Still, Mayor Gavin Newsom sees nothing wrong with taking money from Muni to help pay the salaries of seven mayoral aides.

"It's quite appropriate. It's been done for years. The Board of Supervisors unanimously supported it for years and years," says Newsom.

It may be long standing policy, but the President of the Board of Supervisors says it's time to stop what he calls a 'shell game'.

"This is not political gamesmanship. I'm calling it the way I see it. My job is to make sure the money the voters voted to go to Muni is there to make the buses run on time," says Aaron Peskin, San Francisco Supervisor.

Today, Supervisor Peskin introduced a resolution, calling on the Mayor to return any Muni money paying for positions that aren't directly related to the operations of the agency.

According to the City Controller, about $640,000 dollars in Muni money is helping to fund jobs, ranging from a special events coordinator to the new director of Climate Protection initiatives, as well as the Mayor's chief of staff on transit issues.

"They are all justifiable. They are all legitimate and they are all making a difference for Muni. Every single one of them," says Mayor Newsom.

SPUR, a non-partisan civic organization, believes lack of funding is crippling Muni, but its transportation policy director thinks the fight over less than a $1 million dollars distracts from the bigger issue.

"The kind of signal I want the mayor to send is to have the buses run on time. That's what the public cares about the most. I really don't think the public cares about minor adjustments in the city's budget," says Dave Snyder, SPUR.

However, Rescue Muni, a group which advocates for the system's riders, disagrees.

"With that kind of money, you could pay for more line supervision, which the agency badly needs, more parking control officers and more Muni operators to fill out the gaps in service every day," says Daniel Murphy, Rescue Muni.

Gavin Newsom claims this is really about a mayoral aide who is being paid with those Muni funds -- an aide Newsom says board president Aaron Peskin wants out of City Hall. Peskin denies that charge and says the issue is making sure Muni and its riders get every bit of badly needed funding.