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CA: MTA board living it up (perks perks perks!)
LA Daily News ^ | 6/5/05 | Lisa Mascaro

Posted on 06/05/2005 9:26:01 AM PDT by NormsRevenge

Despite grave budget problems, MTA board members and their staffs dine as they always have on seared salmon, tequila lime chicken salad and sushi during their monthly meetings.

And the lunches are served after the breakfasts, which range from continental style to fuller offerings that include pancakes, french toast and eggs, all served up with coffee -- Starbucks until recently when they changed brands.

The agency allocated $20,000 for meals in its current budget that ends this month and plans the same amount in its $2.8 billion 2005-06 budget, missing the chance to make at least a symbolic gesture in support of CEO Roger Snoble's call to curb spending.

"This is arguably reflective of the attitude we see at all levels of government: the Titanic is sinking, but let's make sure we're having a glass of Perrier," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

"Some of the items certainly appear to be extravagant in light of the fact that the agency has consistently run a deficit. And although the relatively small amount may, in the grand scheme of things, be no more than what we refer to as budget dust, it is both symbolic and reflective of what they bring to the table. They're not very cost conscious."

Frank Roberts, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, said that, while the meals are welcome during long hours of meetings, the board may have to reconsider the expense.

"I would say that certainly it's a perk that maybe we should think over," said Roberts, the mayor of Lancaster. "We'll probably have to examine it."

MTA spokesman Marc Littman took a similar tone.

"They're not going off to a fancy restaurant. They're working through their lunch, doing the public business. ... It's important to keep people here, focused on the business. ... These are critical decisions they have to make.

"Should they just have sandwiches? That's something we'll take a look at."

Lunches have been a long-standing tradition at the MTA, dating back to formation of the agency in 1992 and carried over from its predecessor agency, officials said.

The Los Angeles City Council gets a catered meal once a year during the daylong budget proceedings, but generally gets only snacks -- cheese and crackers, cookies, granola bars, sodas and juice -- at meetings three days a week at a cost of $400 monthly, according to the Chief Legislative Analyst's Office.

The Metropolitan Water District budgets $30,000 annually to bring in cafeteria lunches and snacks for its 37 board members who often spend eight-hour days at board and committee meetings.

A decade ago, Los Angeles County Supervisors were criticized for having a chef prepare meals that were then served on white linen -- a practice that has since been canceled.

The MTA board is made up 13 elected officials from across the county, including the five county supervisors, the Los Angeles mayor and his three City Council appointees and representatives of four smaller cities.

They are paid $150 per MTA meeting they attend, although most of them get salaries or stipends from elected office -- ranging from nearly $150,000 for the county supervisors to the $670 stipend Roberts gets as mayor of Lancaster.

After several years of tight budgets, the MTA now faces the double whammy of significantly reduced funds from Sacramento and a court order to add more buses to relieve overcrowding and expand service.

This year's budget, which Snoble has called "painful," includes the elimination of 133 full-time jobs and $77 million from one-time sources like property sales and leases to balance the budget.

Officials have said the agency has only enough in reserve for one month of operation.

"It's going to be a very challenging budget," Snoble told the board at its May meeting. "We simply have to be looking at everything we can to save money."

Generally, the meals -- which come from the cafeteria -- are served for about 30 people -- the 13 board members, their staff and a handful of executives. They're served both at the regular monthly board meeting, as well as the committee meetings.

During the current fiscal year, main dishes have included turkey with all the fixings, balsamic chicken and enchiladas.

Past years' offerings have included a dim sum bar, mahi mahi and strawberries and grapes drizzled with chocolate. There have also been pizzas and sandwiches. The sushi platter -- at as much as $125 -- tends to be a standard feature.

Most meals come with sides, like rice and vegetables. Plus the board is served salads and desserts -- typically cookies and brownies. Sometimes there's ice cream. Last year, there was a $140 custom bus cake.

Generally, the tab runs $700 for a board meeting's meals, according to invoices and MTA.

Coupal said he understands the need for working lunch but questions why it must come at taxpayer expense.

"At what point do they reimburse the district for the meals?"

Roberts, the MTA chairman, said he's grown to appreciate the meals after driving nearly two hours from Lancaster to attend meetings.

"I often don't eat at home, or, if I have a little bowl of cereal or something ... I know there'll be fruit or sometimes there's eggs or a bacon strip. "It does offer us the opportunity to have lunch together and talk. I really enjoy that, (but) it would not be all that tough to walk down the hall to the cafeteria and buy my own lunch.

"I must say, because of my conservative nature, I'm going to have to agree. ... some taxpayers would not agree with that little perk, so I'm going to have to think about it."

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Politics/Elections; US: California
KEYWORDS: board; california; govwatch; highonthehog; living; mta; packalunch; perks

1 posted on 06/05/2005 9:26:02 AM PDT by NormsRevenge
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To: NormsRevenge

Have these weasels never heard of a brown bag.?????????????

2 posted on 06/05/2005 9:38:31 AM PDT by Coldwater Creek ('We voted like we prayed")
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To: NormsRevenge

The Orlando MTA members are world travelors. Just out to get some better ideas about public transpotation - doncha know? Like somebody at the Taj Mahl(?) knows a lot about busses?

3 posted on 06/05/2005 9:42:33 AM PDT by sandydipper (Less government is best government!)
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To: NormsRevenge

Our great state government in action. The "anything goes" mentality of the liberals just keeps rolling and the taxpayer just keeps getting raped.

4 posted on 06/05/2005 9:42:48 AM PDT by EagleUSA
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To: NormsRevenge
It's income, and must be added to their W-2's at tax time. So too are their free cars and personal use which does include commuting to and from work each day. Traveling to and from work is not a business expense.

For some reason however, these tax laws only apply to the regular people. A state university faculty chair gets a free Lincoln Navigator, meals, and housing for themselves and their family. About a $50,000 per year bonus, tax free only because it's not reported. They belong in jail.

5 posted on 06/05/2005 9:47:30 AM PDT by blackdog (How are the ones and zeroes treating you today?)
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To: NormsRevenge

-"Should they just have sandwiches? That's something we'll take a look at."-

You can eat any dang thing you want. PAY FOR IT YOURSELVES.

6 posted on 06/05/2005 9:54:17 AM PDT by AmericanChef
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To: NormsRevenge
The writer is sweating pennies while dollars run a way. Have they brought in auditors to see they actually got the best bid on a million dollar fuel contract? Or did somebody write the spec's to favor a certain supplier? Who is checking the attorneys these agencies employ? Many of them have open ended contracts and just add hours of billable time as the notion strikes them.
And payroll? That alone could sweat out a million dollars when time cards are audited. But the chump change has more appeal.
7 posted on 06/05/2005 10:01:34 AM PDT by investigateworld ( God bless Poland for giving the world JP II & a Protestant bump for his Sainthood!)
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To: blackdog

I'll take a correction, but I think if you work during lunch or any meal and your employer feeds you, it's not taxable or reportable.

8 posted on 06/05/2005 10:04:09 AM PDT by bigsigh
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To: bigsigh

But when you get to appropriate the monies to feed yourself, that's different. Private industry has had this practice reigned in quite a bit by the tax code. I once had an employer who "gave" me a Ford Explorer for my birthday. It was still registered, insured, and fueled by the company. I had to pay income taxes on the personal use of it, which included driving to and from work according to the tax code. I did so gladly and never heaped any of this burden on my employer. I knew the car was a set of golden handcuffs. If I left, so would the fine car part my convenience. When I did leave I had the offer to buy it from them at a great price, about half the value. I did and even the difference was declared income.

9 posted on 06/05/2005 2:21:07 PM PDT by blackdog (How are the ones and zeroes treating you today?)
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To: blackdog

so can I have my corporation buy me a car and still drive it home?

10 posted on 06/05/2005 3:25:18 PM PDT by bigsigh
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To: bigsigh
Only if you declare the mileage as income. That or let them buy it for you outright, and pay income tax on the full value of the purchased vehicle.

The average commute to and from work is 35 miles nationally. That means roughly $12 per day X 250 working days = $3,000 per year for commuting plus another five grand or so for other personal use. That's $8,000 per year income. That's not chump change.

I declared 25% of my mileage as personal use and paid the tax on that. When I left the firm, the $22,000 value left on the car was negotiated to $14,000 and I paid the tax on the $22,000.

11 posted on 06/05/2005 4:55:11 PM PDT by blackdog (How are the ones and zeroes treating you today?)
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