By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
Overhauling the TWU's contract and work rules -- a highly unlikely prospect -- wouldn't save enough to rescue Muni. Jordan himself has placed the value of the perks and the waste in the TWU contract at $10 million. Richard Swanson is more conservative, estimating $5 million in savings if the TWU were to make some work-rule changes.
So even with some union give -- and in the absence of fair hikes and new federal largess -- a big chunk of cash must come from downtown, which has more than a passing interest in Muni's well-being. The vast majority of downtown's employees and customers commute on city buses. Without Muni, there isn't remotely enough parking to accommodate the daily traffic. Without Muni, retail sales will plummet and professional services will take a hit.
Muni service has boosted property values in the Financial District, because fewer acres need to be reserved for parking (a relative money loser) and therefore more are available for lucrative high-rises. In fact, a 1981 study by Touche, Ross & Co. consultants determined that Muni service to downtown constituted a subsidy of $20 million to its landlords.
Board Budget Analyst Harvey Rose updated that study in 1993. Looking at four factors -- the cost to the city of providing an extraordinary level of service to downtown; the amount of revenue those lines generate; the healthy economic climate Muni helps create; and the overall tax bill downtown pays -- Rose figured that downtown business should pay $54 million more in taxes each year in ordeCR>r to meet its obligations.
The tax remedy to the downtown subsidy most often discussed is a transit assessment district drawn around the greater downtown area. Sotto voce, Committee on Jobs members say they wouldn't be adverse to some form of new taxation, especially if the pain is spread out to include hotels and perhaps even businesses in the heavily traveled Geary Street corridor. They'd be even happier if the assessment district took in the whole city, another option they are considering suggesting.
But a COJ source says the group will not even utter the dread T-word until the TWU agrees to deal on its contract. "Willie is going to have to bang some heads together," the COJ source says.
The COJ has repeatedly proven its ability to control the tax debate and kill any revenue plan that doesn't meet its approval. Last year, the COJ successfully blocked a proposal by Supervisor Sue Bierman to fund a study that would have updated the 1981 study on the economic benefits downtown accrues from Muni. And when Proposition O, a measure calling for a downtown Muni tax study, was placed on the November 1994 ballot, the COJ buried it under a $700,000 campaign as they pushed the argument that the real issues were Muni efficiency and the drivers.
During the campaign, property owners like the Shorenstein Co., which owns hundreds of millions of dollars worth of downtown real estate, mailed letters to tenants informing them of huge rent increases if the tax passed. The letters went on to ask for campaign contributions in the same amount as the tax; the argument was that the tenants would be better off paying the "tax" once as a "No on O" donation than every year to the government. The Shorenstein appeal was successful.
Once again, business interests are taking control of the Muni tax issue. The original Swanson study included a discussion of a downtown Muni tax, but sources say that portion was expunged by the chamber. Instead, Swanson proposes taking Muni out of the city government structure and cCR>reating a separate transit district with its commissioners appointed by the mayor, the supervisors, and the governor. Part of that proposal for an independent Muni calls for the elimination of the TWU's charter protections.
Such a move would be tantamount to labor war, with Willie Brown caught in the middle trying to stay below the fray.
"It stinks," says Marc Norton of San Franciscans for Tax Justice, one of the groups who backed Prop. O. "It would take the decisions about labor and fares out of the public's hands by giving those decisions to unelected officials."
Adds Norton: "Privatization is one aim of this structure." Norton and others fear that an independent transit body would find it easier -- freed from the direct political influence of the mayor and the supervisors -- to sell off public bus lines.
Their fear is hardly academic. Last year, the Republican Party put two measures on the San Francisco ballot aimed at undermining the TWU and paving the way for privatizing Muni. One campaign committee, San Franciscans for Greater Efficiency in Government, pushed the privatization measure. Another, San Franciscans for an Improved Muni, pushed a measure mandating a complete audit of the Muni. It was largely viewed as a way of digging up dirt on the TWU. The privatization measure lost, but the audit won. Contributions to the audit committee came from downtown interests: insurance honcho Dick Goldman, the Building Owners and Managers Association PAC, and Air Touch.
The committee for the losing privatization measure was a shell, with no activity in the account until the week of the election when the private Grosvenor Bus Lines gave a whopping $13,000. The next day, the Committee for Greater Efficiency in Government funneled the bus-line money to the audit committee, providing it cash necessary to run a winning campaign.