Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Trimet budget is a shell game

My colleague and comrade Jared Franz has an evergreen saying: “TriMet’s budget is just an elaborate shell game.”
What he means is that the company has the money it needs to operate a really great transit service that meets the community’s needs: fare-free, 24-hour service, more bus lines, and more. 

When you press TriMet’s senior leadership to spend money in ways that they don’t support, the excuse is generally that “we have constrained resources dedicated to specific funds for specific purposes; we can’t spend capital construction funds on operations, and vice versa.”
 Or, translating boss-ese to English: we can’t legally spend money the way the community wants; why are you mad at us when our hands our tied?

But when it comes to things like a $12 million transit jail, a $35 million investment in new fare cards nobody asked for, a new vanity MAX line to a well-off west side suburb, or whatever other shiny novelty management’s got its eye on, the money always seems to be there. 
Or, at least, they know where to find it.

We need to let go of the myth that TriMet’s funding is heavily constrained, because it gives the company’s senior leadership an immediate out to say, “well, we can’t spend money on this major community priority, we don’t have the right kind of funding.” That’s nonsense; TriMet’s senior management isn’t a bumbling bureaucracy. 
It’s acting deliberately, ideologically, against the public interest: TriMet bosses intentionally use “funding constraints” as an excuse to avoid justified criticism of their priorities as a company. 

We need to reject the idea that these supposed limits are real and material; they do nothing more than obfuscate the fact that TriMet is a property development agency that operates buses as a side hustle.

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