MTA Audit Urged on Valley Rail Funding
City Councilwoman Laura Chick and former Assemblyman Richard Katz called Thursday for an audit of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to determine if the agency has given the San Fernando Valley its share of rail funding.
In particular, the two Valley lawmakers want to make sure that the MTA has complied with a 1984 law written by former state Sen. Alan Robbins that requires the MTA to spend 15% of all local rail money in the Valley or set it aside in a trust fund.
Katz and Chick say the so-called Valley Trust Fund should have a value of about $500 million by now.
“I don’t think anyone has asked for an accounting of that fund,” said Katz, the former head of the Assembly’s Transportation Committee. “My guess is the money has not been accounted for properly.”
But even if the MTA has failed to give the Valley its share, Katz and Chick are not likely to get any relief because the MTA is in serious financial trouble and is struggling just to finish the rail projects it has begun.
An independent audit of the MTA’s $2.8-billion budget by Mayor Richard Riordan’s staff found “unrealistic financial assumptions” and a deficit that could grow to $60 million.
Nonetheless, MTA deputy director Linda Bohlinger said the agency has not ignored or forgotten the requirements of the Robbins bill. She said that 15% of the money spent on the Red Line subway from downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood has been spent on a subway extension to Universal City and to North Hollywood, as required by the law.
She added that she provided Katz a report on the Valley Trust Fund several years ago.
“We would be glad to do an update if it is requested,” she said.
Bohlinger said she is not sure how much remains in the trust fund, but she laughed at suggestions that the fund has a value of $500 million.
She added that the interest from any unused money has been spent on commuter rail and other transit projects in the Valley, as required by the law.
In a letter to MTA Inspector General Arthur Sinai, Katz and Chick also asked that Sinai immediately audit all funds collected by the MTA and its predecessor agencies since 1980 to determine how much has been spent in the Valley.
The letter also asks that Sinai determine whether the MTA has complied with the Robbins legislation.
“In light of the delays in bringing a rail project to the San Fernando Valley, it is particularly important to at least be guaranteed that the transit dollars mandated by law are being allocated to Valley transit services,” the letter said.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, an MTA board member, applauded the call for an audit, saying “it’s helpful and it’s positive for the MTA to show whether it has been complying with the Robbins bill.”
Yaroslavsky estimates that the Valley has contributed up to $1.3 billion in funding to the MTA through sales taxes over the past few years “and has little to show for it.”
Valley residents and lawmakers have complained loudly, charging that the MTA has ignored the Valley’s need for a rail transit system.
Under pressure from the Los Angeles City Council, the MTA agreed in June to begin construction of rail lines in the Valley by 2007, in the Eastside by 2004 and the mid-city area by 2008.
In exchange, the council agreed to pay the MTA $200 million in city transit funds to help pay for subway construction. Under the agreement, the council can withhold some or all of the funds if the MTA fails to meet its construction schedule.
But earlier this month, Bohlinger conceded that the MTA is unlikely to be able to meet the agreement with the city and may have to rewrite the schedule for construction of a Valley line.