SEPTA approves one-month budget, waits for word from Harrisburg

Just two business days before the start of the new fiscal year, SEPTA bought itself a little more time to decide on its 2014 operating budget by approving a one-month operating budget, valid July 1 through July 27. Doing so allows SEPTA to wait for more information about state transportation funding before the Authority approves an operating budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. 

Like seemingly all transportation stakeholders in the state, SEPTA is waiting for more information about the transportation funding package working its way through Harrisburg. Thursday an amended Senate Bill 1, which will determine state transportation funding levels, moved out of the House Transportation Committee. Next the bill goes to the House floor. From there amendments will have to be approved by the state Senate.

Because the bill has yet to be finalized, SEPTA’s board of directors decided to delay its vote on the SEPTA fiscal year 2014 operating budget. The fiscal year starts on July 1, though, and SEPTA needs to have some sort of operating budget in place before then.

The solution: SEPTA’s board approved and adopted a one-month, $97.2 million budget, valid July 1 through July 27. This budget is based on a pro-rated portion of the $1.321 billion operating budget proposed for fiscal year 2014. 

SEPTA first released the fiscal year 2014 operating budget proposal in March. That $1.321 billion budget includes a $38 million funding shortfall. In May, the board deferred voting on the operating budget due to the uncertainties in state funding levels. At that time SEPTA released a statement saying it would revisit the budget decision at a meeting later in the year. 

This one-month budget does not include a portion of the $38 million deficit that exists in the pending 2014 operating budget, but it will, hopefully, give SEPTA time to wait for clarification from the state. 

Even if additional funding does not come through, SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said service cuts or fare hikes are unlikely, at least in the coming year. Though SEPTA cannot continue to operate at a deficit, those are last resort tactics that the Authority would try to steer clear of. 

The SEPTA board also deferred voting on the proposed capital budget in May. The board will revisit that budget proposal once the state funding picture is clear. 

All of these budget woes are coming at a time when SEPTA has an existing $4.7 billion backlog of state of good repair projects and when ridership continues to grow. In the past six years alone, ridership grew 14 percent. 

Despite the budget uncertainty, fares will increase as planned on Monday, July 1. PlanPhilly previously reported on the hike that will bring the cost of a one-way, cash-fare on buses, subways and trolleys from $2 to $2.50 here.

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