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Sta Says It Can Handle Proposed Cutbacks Congress Creating Legislation That Would Trim Operating Assistance Grants

The Spokane Transit Authority has enough money in the bank and enough projects on the ground to withstand proposed federal cutbacks for public transportation, its administrator said Wednesday.

Congress is crafting fiscal 1996 appropriations bills that would trim operating assistance grants available from the Federal Transit Administration.

One deficit-reduction proposal would whack the transit subsidy from $710 million a year - available to the nation’s 375 mass transit systems - to $400 million.

But it’s much too early to determine the potential impact on individual transit agencies, said STA Executive Director Allen Schweim.

“It’s so far from reality right now we’re not sure what to expect, except to be aware,” Schweim said. “The good news is we’ve been trying to anticipate what measures or steps we might have to take in the chance that either the federal or state funding programs change drastically.”

STA has a hefty rainy-day fund - nearly $40 million in cash. It also has avoided long-term debts by paying for new capital projects as they arise.

The Plaza, a downtown Spokane bus center that opens July 16, was built with $20.6 million in savings.

STA’s annual $29 million operating budget is funded from several sources: federal grants, three-tenths of every penny generated in state sales tax; a like amount from the state motor vehicle excise tax; and miscellaneous revenues, including fares, paid advertising on buses and the sale of waste oil.

The Federal Transit Authority funds now targeted on Capitol Hill represent only about 3 percent of STA’s total operating budget, or $981,000.

The Plaza transit center is another investment in Spokane’s mass transit future, Schweim said. The hub will take downtown buses away from business fronts and put them into a centralized location.

Although some route times will change, Schweim said passengers will not face any major changes. Any inconveniences will be offset by keeping riders out of the weather, he added.

“It’s a dream,” Schweim said of the two-story hub at Riverside and Wall.

, DataTimes

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