With deficit looming, Muni raids stimulus funds

Millions of dollars will be siphoned from federal stimulus funds designated to improve crumbling Muni infrastructure under a plan to help San Francisco’s transit agency close a projected $45.1 million operating budget shortfall.

The Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni, announced this week that just three months into the fiscal year that began July 1, it’s tens of millions of dollars in the red due to lower-than-expected returns from parking meters, an impasse with the taxicab industry on reforms and an unexpected spike in operating costs.

The transit agency, which also lost about $180 million in state funding during the past three years, has proposed $25.5 million in immediate savings to help offset the new shortfall.

One solution is to siphon off $6.7 million, the maximum allowed, from federal stimulus funding designated to improve Muni’s crumbling infrastructure and use the money for day-to-day operations.

There also are plans to save $12.3 million by eliminating 250 positions by January, although about 80 of those are currently vacant, according to transit agency chief Nathaniel Ford, who discussed details about the financial strategy at a board of directors meeting Tuesday.

Barring operators, all Muni positions — including custodial and maintenance jobs — are subject to elimination by the cost-saving measure.

Even with its proposed changes, the transit agency is still $19.6 million short for this fiscal year. Ford said ways to come up with money by the end of the fiscal year in June are being explored, including the possibility of negotiating deals with Muni’s operators union.

“We need to have some difficult and frank discussions with our operators union,” he said.

Irwin Lum — head of Transport Workers Union 250-A, which represents 1,900 Muni operators — said both the union and the transit agency need to evaluate operations following the proposed service changes, which take effect Dec. 5, before sitting down to talk.
 

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