Our Chat With Muni, Part 1: ‘A system that could slowly degrade in coming years’

This post is the first in a multi-part series of talks Tara had with SFMTA spokesperson Judson True. We thought it timely for today’s post to be the bits they spent talking about the agency’s astounding $130 million budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This post and the others in this series will be cross-posted at SF Appeal.

Budget Cuts on Muni

Muni Diaries: What’s the latest news on what the economic situation here means for Muni, and what, if anything, will any federal stimulus funds do to stave off any cutbacks or restore any funding you thought you lost?

Judson True: We presented to our board of directors a few weeks ago a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 with a deficit of about $130 million. That’s a big number.

For next year, we’re down about $55 million just from state and regional funding alone. And our money from the city’s general fund is expected to come in at about $25 million less than we expected.

Those are significant numbers. What we presented to our board on March 17 was a menu of a wide range of possible solutions to the deficit. Everything from layoffs and furloughs to service cuts and fare increases of every sort. Those choices have been covered fairly extensively, and will be even more in the next month, because we have to submit a budget amendment to our two-year budget to the mayor by May 1. It’s going to be a sprint to close quite a deficit.

We’ve identified more than 500 positions that we’re hoping to fill that are on hold. That can help us address about $75 million worth of that $130 million deficit. But not having those positions, many of which are street inspectors, parking-control officers, schedulers, front-line staff; not having those positions will have a definite impact on our service.

We’ve been clear that as part of our solution to our deficit, there will be impacts. We’ll see a system that could slowly degrade in coming years.

MD: So you expect to be able to close that deficit completely?

True: We have to balance the budget. We have to both cut expenditures and raise revenues so that we come into balance in order to meet our legal requirements.

We hope to spend almost $50 million of the $67 million we’re slated to receive in transit stimulus funding directly to our vehicles. To repairing collision damage on LRVs and working on the doors and steps. Door-and-step issues cause significant delays. If a door is stuck at Van Ness station, and the train can’t move, you’re backing up all the other vehicles, and we need to set up shop on the scene to fix it. If it takes 5 minutes, if it takes 10 minutes, that causes a ripple throughout the system.

The stimulus money, because it’s capital rehab money, cannot go directly toward offsetting your operating deficit. But it will be used directly for investments that will improve service.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of our talk with Judson True, in which Tara and Judd talk about all our gripes about the Muni system.

Photo by Flickr user Brian_Brooks

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