Muni budget vote blocked by disputes over free rides for youths 

Just when it appeared The City’s transportation agency was headed toward major budgetary changes, squabbles over a proposal to provide free Muni service for youths led to five hours of inaction and no decisions.

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The board of directors for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was poised to vote on a budget Tuesday that would have erased a two-year, $56.2 million shortfall. Included in the budget proposal was an initiative to provide free Muni for low-income youths.

However, there was a schism among the six board members, who could not agree if the free Muni initiative should be extended to all San Francisco residents under the age of 18. After deadlocking several times -- the seventh SFMTA director, Chairman Tom Nolan, was absent due to recent surgery -- the board opted to continue a vote until its next meeting, April 17.

There was contention among the board because regional funds have been identified for the free Muni for low-income youths program. However, money has not been identified for a program that would be extended to all youths. The SFMTA had projected a $4 million revenue loss with the low-income program, but an extension of that plan would cost an additional $6.7 million over the next two years.

Directors Malcolm Heinicke, Jerry Lee and Cheryl Brinkman said they would not feel comfortable voting on the plan without identifying a funding source for the $6.7 million. Directors Joel Ramos, Bruce Oka and Leona Bridges were in support of free Muni for all youths —an effort backed by grass-roots organizations and students that was led by Supervisor David Campos.

By continuing the vote, the board directed SFMTA staff to identify potential funds for the full rollout of the Muni youth program.

Because the initiative was continued, the board also had to continue a vote on balancing its budget for the next two years. That proposal included measures to enforce parking meters on Sundays, install 500 to 1,000 more meters and increase traffic citations by $5.

As a result, a revamped proposal of the free Muni for youths plan will be voted on April 17. The SFMTA’s two-year budget also is scheduled to be voted on that day. The budget must be approved and passed on to The City’s Board of Supervisors by May 1.

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Will Reisman

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