There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, April 13, 2009

Taking the name of choice riders in vain

What would you do if you were a Sacramento Regional Transit board member and your chief financial officer showed you this slide during a discussion of the budget hole the district is facing in next year's budget?

You probably would not do what six board members did Monday night. They dug the hole $2 million deeper.

It was a bizarre night all around.

The board started with approval of the release of the draft TransitAction Plan, a long-range vision for Sacramento that is, in a word, fantastic -- as in "marked by extravagant fantasy."

The board followed that up with approval of the final environmental impact report and other steps that will launch the construction of the first phase of the downtown-Natomas-airport light rail line. Groundbreaking is expected to start by August or September. Longtime DNA proponent Roger Dickinson and board colleague Ray Tretheway were besides themselves in wonder that the day had finally arrived. Twenty years they've been talking about this, said Dickinson.

What was a wonder was the disconnect between future plans and the fiscal reality that was graphically brought home by the district's chief financial officer in presentations on amendments to the current budget year and the start of discussions for the coming year.

Nobody wanted to hear what Dee Brookshire had to say. Not even the $14 million gift from federal taxpayers may be enough to save the district from more hard choices. As the above slide explains, service cuts of 10 percent or another round of fare increases may be necessary.

Read for yourself what Brookshire had to say about the current budget and the one next year.

So it was as if no one had been paying attention when the discussion shifted to a proposal to charge a dollar to park all day on weekdays in the district's park-and-ride lots. The token fee for using RT's lots would have generated an estimated $1 million this year plus another half-million from the fines that would be collected from people who didn't bother to pay.

In the end, it came down to a battle between suburban interests and city folks.

"No" votes were cast by Sacramento County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, who represents Citrus Heights and Folsom; Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, who represents Galt, Isleton, Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova; Folsom City Councilman Andy Morin; Citrus Heights Councilman Steve Miller; Elk Grove Mayor Pat Hume; and Rancho Cordova City Councilman David Sander.

Voting "Yes" were Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who represents the city of Sacramento and Natomas (see DNA vote above); Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn; Sacramento City Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell and Sacramento City Councilman Ray Tretheway.

Due to RT's weighted voting system, those six noes and four ayes made the vote 50-50.

The deciding vote was cast by Sacramento City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond, who left the meeting before the issue came up for a vote.

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