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State Avoids Blame As Metro Prepares Service Cuts

The public process is over, and now the cuts can begin.

Tonight marks the first meeting of Metro’s Regional Service Sector Council where local boards are expected to endorse the staff recommended service cuts. State Senators, advocacy groups and Metro’s riders have all panned the service cuts, calling them everything from "inconvenient" to "racist." However, the heated comments at the public hearings haven’t reached the ears of those most responsible for the cuts: Governor Schwarzenegger and other state leaders.

The average passenger wonders why Metro is cutting routes less than a year after raising fares. While there is plenty of blame to pass around for the sad state of Metro’s operating budget, much of the blame can be placed at the feet of the governor, who’s budgets routinely under fund transit. The final FY08 budget raided of $1.3 billion of funds generated by the gas tax for transportation to balance the general fund. The LA Times estimated that transfer cost Metro almost $250 million.

At the regional meetings on service cuts, most comments and criticisms were directed at the volunteers serving on the regional service sectors or the Metro staff and board instead of at the leaders who control Metro’s subsidy and a large portion of its budget. Almost three quarters of Metro’s operating budget comes from state and federal subsidies.

State leadership has been so isolated from criticism, that State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, delivered a statement to Metro Board last week saying:

A large number of my constituents depend on public transportation and any reduction in services will have a far reaching effect in my district. I urge the board to carefully examine the implications of these proposed cuts and to exhaust every available option before considering a reduction of services.

Ridley-Thomas seems unaware that as a State Senator he has more control over Metro’s operating budget than members of the board he was addressing. The statement would have been much more powerful if it contained a promise of more help from Sacramento, but the State Senate’s role in Metro’s plight wasn’t mentioned. Instead, he placed blame on Metro, who is being asked to expand its service while receiving less aid every year.

Granted, Metro doesn’t do itself any favors by awarding a lavish contract to install turnstiles while deciding what bus lines to cut. Even though money allocated for capital improvements, including the turnstile plan, cannot be spent on operating projects, awarding the turnstile contract created the impression that Metro is flush with funds. However, it’s Metro’s operating budget that is in a state of chaos, and without more help from state leadership, Metro’s riders can expect higher fares and more cuts in the near future.

For more on the cuts, read Sue Doyle’s article in today’s Daily News.

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