The story is snowballing.
Mayor Ed Lee is furious at supervisors who voted for Sup. Scott Wiener’s Muni funding measure, and told reporters Monday he would hold them “accountable.”
News of the mayor’s retribution has circled round, and the timing of a memo issued by Kate Howard, the mayor’s budget director, has raised eyebrows. The memo directs city departments to prepare for budget cuts she said are called for due to Wiener’s measure.
The Guardian has obtained the memo and is embedding it below.
“Last week, the board of supervisors sent a measure to the ballot that the budget does not contemplate,” Howard wrote. “As a result of this unanticipated measure, the Mayor’s Office is directing departments to propose contingency plans that could be implemented should the measure pass.”
Howard is referencing Wiener’s new Muni funding measure, which would raise the transit agency’s funding with the population. The cost is estimated to be about $22 million annually.
Now it seems the mayor is playing for keeps. Following through on his promise to hold supervisors “accountable” for supporting Wiener’s measure, Howard directs city agencies to prepare to make cuts to new programs, hiring plans, and to “scale back existing services.”
But what Howard’s memo doesn’t say is that Muni has its own budget problems, caused not by Wiener’s new ballot measure, but by Mayor Ed Lee.
It’s really a case of the pot calling the kettle black: Lee is saying Wiener’s ballot measure will hurt the General Fund, but supervisors contend Lee hurt Muni’s budget when he pulled his Vehicle License Fee measure off the ballot.
Wiener’s new Muni funding measure was a contingency plan after Lee dropped the VLF, which blew a $33 million hole in Muni’s proposed budget.
The SFMTA outlined the consequences of a failure to pass multiple ballot measures (of which the VLF was one) in its proposed 2015/16 budget. The proposed cuts are a doom and gloom list that would make any Muni rider cut up their Clipper Card in disgust.
The agency said such an outcome would make it impossible to improve transit travel time and reliability, and fund pedestrian safety projects. It would also mean fewer buses and lightrail vehicles, a decline in existing infrastructure, and less funding for bicycle infrastructure, among other problems.
In other words, without ballot measures to increase Muni funding, the SFMTA is screwed.
But when Lee’s license fee measure initially polled poorly, he got cold feet and yanked it. Yet he continued to push forward with a $500 million transportation bond measure, which remains on the ballot. Now he’s feverishly hoping to stop any competing ballot measures which may have the remote possibility of hurting its chances to succeed.
“I agree with the mayor on many things,” Wiener told the Guardian. But, “ultimately the mayor is elected and I have to exercise my best judgment. It’s not personal, it’s a policy disagreement.”
We asked Sup. David Campos if there’s a fear that these cuts would only hit projects the supervisors favor.
“I think there’s definitely that fear,” he told us. But he noted something important.
“When we’re talking about punishing, you’re not punishing a supervisor, you’re punishing a district they represent,” he said. “Ultimately, you’re punishing constituents.”
Still, at this point, it’s not entirely clear the directives from Howard will target specific supervisor’s projects.
“We’re concerned,” Campos said, “but we need to ask the budget director what this means.”
Update [8/1]: Supervisor Scott Wiener sent an email to press today giving further backstory on the memo from Kate Howard regarding the budget.
From his email:
“On Wednesday, in what can only be described as an empty scare tactic, the Mayor’s Office announced that due solely to the transit measure (totaling .25% of the budget), all departments were directed to formulate emergency 1.5% contingency cuts for the 2015/16 fiscal year. The Mayor’s Office further indicated that the cuts will be directed at the “priorities” of the six Supervisors who voted to place the measure on the ballot.
For whatever reason, the Mayor’s Office felt the need to issue these emergency instructions now – a full year before the fiscal year at issue, in the middle of an election campaign, without even knowing whether the measure will pass, and regarding an amount of money that is tiny in the context of the budget. Moreover, there will be a full budget process next spring for the 2015/16 fiscal year, and if the measure passes, the $22 million at issue will simply be part of that budget.
What the Mayor’s Office neglected to mention in its announcement is the existence of a $32 million hole in MTA’s budget for the 2015/16 fiscal year. If this gap isn’t filled – and [Supervisor Wiener’s] measure will fill two-thirds of it – MTA will have to forego plans to purchase new vehicles, rehabilitate run down vehicles, replace failing train switches and signals, rehabilitate broken station elevators, make needed pedestrian safety improvements, and implement the Embarcadero Bikeway.”