For the second straight year, BART is projecting a very healthy operating budget. But despite bucking nationwide trends again, the transit agency is still likely to move forward with ousting its general manager.
Even with flat ridership numbers and sales tax revenue that is below 2001 levels, the agency projects a budget surplus this fiscal year, and is not projecting any deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, according to BART documents.
Through labor concessions, salary freezes and fare increases — all approved under General Manager Dorothy Dugger — BART has managed to find $70 million in annual savings.
That picture is a stark contrast to other local transit agencies, such as Muni, which is facing a $21.2 million budget deficit, and Caltrain, which is looking at a $30.3 million shortfall — a situation that has it contemplating reducing weekday service by 45 percent.
But while Muni chief Nathaniel Ford is rumored to be in the running for an important transit position in Washington, D.C., and Caltrain Director Michael Scanlon has received praise despite his $400,000 salary, Dugger was recently asked to resign by BART’s board of directors.
While that vote was rescinded due to a technicality, there have been persistent rumors that Dugger is working with the agency on a way to leave BART on her own terms. Rumors for the resignation motion have ranged from Dugger’s tough stance with labor groups to a lack of communication with BART board members to her status as a powerful female general manager.
BART Director Lynette Sweet, one of the four directors to publicly support Dugger, said the upcoming year’s rosy budget outlook is another strong indication that the general manager is a strong leader.
“I’m really hoping that my fellow directors come to their senses on this,” Sweet said. “They should realize that we’ve gotten something in place that’s working, so if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Bob Franklin, the board president and one of five directors who asked Dugger to resign, said the problems with the general manager were not budget-related, so he didn’t think the projections for the upcoming fiscal year would sway anyone’s opinion.
BART Director Tom Radulovich, a frequent critic of Dugger, said the agency’s long-term problems should outweigh the relatively good short-term budget picture.
BART has about a $7 billion funding shortfall for capital projects over the next 25 years, and while Dugger has championed a policy to expand the system, its core facilities are falling into disrepair, Radulovich said.
He said riders have consistently complained to him about the system’s dirty seats, messy interiors and frequently malfunctioning equipment.
BART projects a budget surplus for the current fiscal year. Operating budgets detail the day-to-day management of the BART system. Capital budgets outline long-term projects, such as infrastructure upgrades and seismic retrofits.