It's said that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. If that's the case, then the Road to Hell Paving Crew is earning triple overtime with the awesome sounding, budget busting "plan" by "Supervisor" David Campos to give free Muni for the children. I mean, what's wrong with that? Shouldn't we please think about the children, after all?
In San Francisco's feeling-based politics, this is something that makes everyone feel wonderful. How can anyone be against something like this - it's like being against puppies, or unicorns that poop cinnamon buns with no trans fats.
Unfortunately, this "plan" is not only a budget buster for the SFMTA and Muni - it's also an example of some of the most cynical politics our "leaders" have to offer. All in the 100th year of Our Muni.
Let's tackle the money first. It's no secret that the SFMTA and Muni are in trouble financially. After the past looting of the SFMTA (and all transit agencies) by the state over the last few years, and a few more years of "kick the can" style budgeting by our former "Mayor," financial gimmicks won't work anymore.
The SFMTA has already been discussing revenue sources, and they've even suggested more service cuts (using the doublespeak term "right sizing") in addition to previous years' cuts. Right now the agency faces a gap of over $50 million.
Now, you'd think that blasting a hole in revenue of $4 - $8 million dollars in this climate would be insane. And you'd be right. However, "Supervisor" Campos and his merry band of political apparatchniks just don't give a damn. They insist on sticking to the idea that government is Santa Claus, able to give away treats and goodies to all the good boys and girls, because after all, it's free, right?
No, it's not. First, the true cost of the program, be it for just the reduced lunch eligible population ($4.0 million) or to all the kids (&7.9 million) is actually more than what's been stated in SFMTA reports. That's because those numbers only account for the loss in revenue to the agency and not the cost of administering the program, or the "outreach" they'll have to do.
(Side note: guess which politically connected "non profit" will get the cash to administrate said outreach? I'm betting it's the one that is doing Campos' political bidding for this ill advised plan).
Second, at best the funding for this "plan" will come from a myriad of one-time sources. "Supervisor" Campos, in his role as chair of the SF County Transit Agency (SFCTA) has already shown a willingness to use the SFCTA's money (normally used for capital projects and planning) to partially pay for his plan. At best we may see some short term funding cobbled together for a year, possibly two. We all know what happens with short term one time funds, right?
Here's where the cynical politics kick in. If we are to have a truly honest discussion on making "free Muni for the kids," then the program has to be sustainably funded for the long term. That means that "Supervisor" Campos should be talking about putting a nice big tax hike, be it on sales taxes or property taxes to pay for it, and go out and campaign for that, instead of just creating an election year bonus for himself.
You know what will happen if this ill-planned idea goes forth with a cobbled together funding plan. Campos will revel in the praise for "saving the children," Everyone will be happy. Then in a year or two, long after the election year signs have gone down and the junk mail recycled, the SFMTA will be back at Square One, with no resources to continue. They'll be made out to be Evil Meanies, and Campos will be nowhere to be found.
(Also, we are teaching our children a rather bad civics lesson - organize only when you get a direct goodie from the government. Don't be held accountable. Don't pledge to behave on Muni if you get it for free. Just go to City Hall, yell a lot and hang out with the progressive political machine, and demand your cookies, damnit.)
It's especially cynical when you consider that "Supervisor" Campos has not yet made any serious pledge to serve a full four year term if elected (backed of course by taxpayer dollars!).
Rumor has it that Campos sees himself running for another office midway through his term. To dismiss this (often repeated) rumor, he can simply sign a pledge indicating that he's going to serve the term for the office he is running for in 2012. Then at least he'd be around if and when the thing collapses
If he does not, then his cynicism is transparent. Using both taxpayer funds for his campaign spending AND using taxpayer money to potentially bankrupt the SFMTA for his showboat-y, feel good "plan" only to skip out of office to another one is just plain wrong.
Finally, there's this: this year marks the 100th anniversary of the radical concept known as the San Francisco Municipal Railway, which had at its premise the lofty idea that a public transit system should be run for the benefit of all of the people of San Francisco - not an elite. We should be coming together to find new and innovative ways to pay for and operate a world class transit system.
There are plenty of hard working people within the SFMTA who who want the system to work. I know - I've met them and yes they do exist.
There are plenty of people who live and/or work in San Francisco who want the system to work.
There are even a few people in City Hall who feel the same way. (A few, but yes they exist too.)
With all the geniuses we have in town and in the region, surely we can put aside the politics of the "choose up sider" and the cynical incumbent protection racket, and think not just for November 2012, but for November 2050.
Of course, that doesn't fit well on a piece of crappy junk mail, nor is it a crowd pleaser with the political apparatchniks and the non-profiteers that all want their "gimme" from Santa. However, it's also the right way to go.
PS: Some fun facts - during "Supervisor" Campos' term in office , the cost of an Adult Fast Pass has skyrockted. I wonder why he and his progressive allies don't do something about that? I mean, don't we deserve a break too? After all we actually work and pay taxes.
PS2: This half baked idea has been floating around for a while. Fun fact: there's already a plan and funding to give financially disadvantaged youth Muni passed. None of the money got spent because no one can figure out how to give a Muni pass to a child. Really. Yeah, I know. (Also, here's an article I wrote last year on this issue, as well)