DOWNTOWN Spending cuts to the recently approved state budget have several local agencies scrambling to make up the funding gap.
Transit and housing are particularly hard hit, leading local leaders to look to alternative avenues for funding for next year’s pending fiscal crisis.
Where Santa Monica is concerned, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Emergency Housing and Assistance Program were two of the organizations most affected by the state budget signed into law last month, Carol Swindell, City Hall’s finance director, said.
“It’s going to be an extreme challenge when we see our revenue declining and our ridership increasing,” Stephanie Negriff, director of the Big Blue Bus, said.
BBB receives all of its $52 million annual budget from county-wide sales tax and the MTA, Negriff said. Next year, the local transit company will receive approximately $3.5 million less than expected as a result of the $133 million cut to MTA’s budget.
Both Negriff and Marc Littman, MTA spokesman, said they will be making ridership a priority while still looking at ways to stay within budget.
In times of economic distress transit ridership traditionally goes down, Negriff added. However, soaring gas prices have forced a number of Angelenos to look to mass transit to save money, boosting BBB’s ridership in recent months.
Next year, BBB may be forced to take its capital expenses, traditionally used for things like replacing aging buses, and shift that money to operating costs instead, Negriff said.
MTA will be looking at similar scenarios including cutting professional services and using reserve money for operations. Using reserves is not ideal because even if it covers expenses for a year, MTA could be in poor shape the following year, Littman said.
Organizations that serve the Los Angeles County homeless population may also be in a difficult spot come July 2009 when the new budget takes effect. Under next year’s budget all funding was cut for the Emergency Housing and Assistance Program. The program is designed to provide emergency shelters and transitional housing for those living on the street. This past year, 20 different organizations received $30,000 through the program to provide support services including the CLARE Foundation located in Santa Monica.
“We’re very disappointed and we think this is not the time to be cutting funds to provide basic services to our most vulnerable citizens,” Anna Baum, director of development and fundraising at the CLARE Foundation, said.
The foundation, which provides recovery services for alcoholism and substance abuse to individuals and families, has always served a large homeless population. Marlene De La O, community relations director, reports that 83 percent of the people the foundation takes in are homeless. The cuts will affect the operational and support services for six beds in the detox primary program.
In addition to the CLARE Foundation, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority will also lose money they have relied on for the past two years through the Emergency Housing and Assistance Program.
The homeless provider rents out six National Guard armories from December to March each year to give homeless individuals a temporary roof over their heads.
“The goal is to get people off their feet during those cold winter months,” Paria Kooklan, a policy and planning analyst for the agency, said.
In all, the six National Guard armories house 600 homeless each season. Two of the armories on the Westside have pick-up locations in Santa Monica where homeless people can board a shuttle and be taken to shelters each night.
Facing an already struggling economy, the agency plans to act quickly to seek alternate funding, Kooklan said. Plans are currently in the works to have lobbyists try and prevent similar funding cuts in 2010. Although she describes the situation as dire, Kooklan is hopeful her agency will be able to come up with the money to keep the winter shelter program running in 2009.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to get funding,” Kooklan said.