Caltrain FY19 budget passes uneventfully, with help of $4million from VTA to support South County

On Thursday, the Caltrain board approved an FY2019 operating budget of $151.5 million and a $42.7 million capital budget, without additional fare increases beyond already approved last summer, and maintaining service levels.

To balance the operating budget, Caltrain is dipping $4 million into reserves, the three county partners pitched in an additional $5million over the previous year.

To meet the capital budget needs to maintain equipment to prevent breakdowns, the three county partners increased their contributions from $5M to $7.5M each. VTA, facing a budget crunch, was able to make its contribution by advancing $4.3M in capital funds from 2016 Measure B, which will be used to rehabilitate diesel locomotives that will be used to provide additional service to South San Jose and South Santa Clara County, as approved by the voters.

The funds from the 2016 Measure B sales tax are being collected, but their use is being held up because of a lawsuit, and availability depends on the lawsuit being resolved on appeal. First-tier courts rejected the suit, and the appeal is expected to be heard in the coming year.

The proposal for VTA to use the Measure B funds was passed unanimously by the VTA board on Thursday night. The decision required a 2/3 board vote.

VTA’s Administration and Finance Committee had a lively discussion about using this strategy at its meeting on May 17, with concerns raised about Caltrain’s plans to increase South County service with the funding from Measure B. The topic of increased service to South County will be addressed as part of Caltrain’s business plan in the coming year.

The City Manager of Morgan Hill came to Caltrain’s Thursday board meeting to encourage the board to move forward with the increased service. San Jose Council Member Jiminez, representing South San Jose, sits on Caltrain’s Local Policymaker Working Group, where he has advocated for the increased South County service as part of the business plan.  If you live in South San Jose, Morgan Hill, or Gilroy, there will opportunities to make your voice heard when Caltrain is making decisions about South County service.

The collaboration between the 3 county partners, and the creative solution from VTA to meet the capital budget contribution by supporting the equipment that will be used for increased South County service, are welcome developments, given the history of partner tensions when partners have faced budget deficits.

In the past, Caltrain’s lack of dedicated funding has led to service cuts or fare increases in years when one of the three county partners faced budget challenges.

A potential ballot measure to provide dedicated funding has been authorized by the legislature, but is not expected to be put before voters until 2020, after Caltrain has completed a business plan setting out its goals, revenue expectations, and public funding needs.