Transit Support Fund Runneth Over

Transit Support Fund Runneth Over

The County Controller released the 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for 2015 and the Controller’s press release on the CAFR pointed out the $16.1 million fund balance at the end of the year for the transportation fund that provides the local match for Port Authority mass transit.  Setting aside what the Controller argues to be done with the money in the press release for the time being, let’s look at the intertwined financials of the County’s transportation fund (primarily exhibit B-3 of the CAFR), the budget of the Port Authority, and the budget of the Regional Asset District.  Note that of the three only PAT operates on a non-calendar fiscal year.

The County taxes alcoholic beverages at a rate of 7% and car rentals at a rate of $2 per day.  In FY15, these two taxes raised a combined $46.4 million; penalties and interest added $1.1 million, bringing transportation fund revenues to $47.5 million.  Total expenditures–state law requires that a local match for mass transit operations be 15% of state money–from the fund were $29.0 million.  But the state, based on PAT’s 14-15 budget, provided $212.4 million, and 15% of that is $31.8 million.  That’s where the RAD board comes in, providing the remaining $3 million of operating assistance, as they have since 2013 when the previous Governor came through with $30 million in additional state operating assistance, which was prior to the passage of Act 89.

So with $47.5 million in revenue and $29 million in expenditures, what happened to the remaining money in the transportation fund?  $17.1 million was transferred out of the fund–$9.9 million to the debt service fund, $7 million to the capital projects fund (the County has to match PAT capital at 3 1/3%), based on exhibit B-3.  That left $1.3 million in the fund, but the fund balance at the beginning of 2015 was $14.7 million, meaning year end was the $16.1 million from the press release and news coverage.

Could the tax rates be cut?  Seems like there is more than enough money to meet operating and capital needs at PAT.  What about RAD?  Is their board asking why they need to put $3 million toward the state operating assistance match even though the two taxes for transit support are bringing in plenty of money?

County administration officials stated that there could be a bump in “future increases in County subsidy” and with upcoming capital projects that money might be needed.  But even looking at pre-to post-Act 89 state operating assistance with PAT’s FY16 budget showing $221.5 million from the Commonwealth being a $36 million increase over FY14 ($155 million in state assistance plus the additional from the Governor at $30 million, total $185.6 million) the County, if it was doing the 15% match without RAD money, would have grown $6 million.

For 2016, the County budget director projects that it will send $30.2 million in operating match and $8.5 million in capital to PAT.  Counting in the additional $3 million in RAD operating assistance, that’s $41.7 million.  The County’s 2016 fiscal plan projects that the drink and car rental taxes would bring in $43.2 million.