in Houston, Texas
Houston-area voters will have option to expand Metro’s share of sales tax proceeds in November
Friday, Aug 03, 2012, 05:19PM CST
By Mike Cronin
rail

Houston-area voters will be asked this November whether they want Metro to keep all the money it receives from regional sales taxes or if they want 25 cents of every dollar Metro collects to continue going to Harris County, the city of Houston and 14 other cities for road repair and construction.

Board members for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Houston approved a rough draft for the referendum language during a meeting on Friday.

The voters’ decision would take effect October 2014. The ballot question also will require voter approval for another referendum on Metro’s funding to occur no later than 2021. That would allow enough time for the future board to review 2020 census data for the region, said Lisa Castañeda, a Harris County board appointee.

Having whittled their options down from six proposals, none of the board members expressed full-throated support for the final plan.

Board member Christof Spieler said that even though the referendum rough draft language presents a choice he believes the public doesn't really want, it does provide one positive thing: "What redeems this is that it gives us another chance to build a consensus to improve transit in the region -- roads, buses, rail, everything."

“I’m going to vote (at the ballot box) for the proposal the board just approved,” said Gilbert Garcia, chairman of Metro’s board, immediately after the meeting.

But Garcia repeatedly said he was disappointed that an alternative ballot question he had crafted failed to win board approval. It would have allowed Metro to freeze the amount of sales tax dollars it allocated to other local governments under the agency’s “general mobility payment” program at whatever level they reach in 2014, with proceeds above that flowing to Metro’s coffers.

He and other board members viewed that as an effective compromise between factions of those who aligned themselves with the transit authority and the city of Houston and those who aligned themselves with Harris County and the 14 cities.

“It was a brilliant idea to give the different interest groups at least some of what they wanted, and it was a good way to be fair to all entities involved,” said board member Carrin Patman, who is among five of the nine directors that Houston Mayor Annise Parker appoints. Garcia, Vice Chairman Allen Watson, Dwight Jefferson and Spieler are the others.

What concerns Garcia most is that the current wording of the referendum draft guarantees that Metro will not have the funding it must have to keep up with the region’s projected growth, alleviate gridlock and get people to and from their places of work.

“Metro will continue to not meet the transit needs of the region,” Garcia said. “The transit problem has to be solved or it’s going to be solved for us.”

But some local residents believe that Metro already has failed to deliver on its promises, and they oppose providing the transit authority with any more money.

“I don’t think they’ve proven they’re entitled to 75 percent. Metro hasn’t earned 75 percent,” Republican Congressman John Culberson told Texas Watchdog in an earlier interview.

Board member Cindy Siegel, a former Bellaire mayor and a board member appointed by the 14 cities, expressed displeasure during the meeting about the method her colleagues were using to determine the referendum rough draft language.

“You guys have the votes; you control the board,” Siegel said to her Parker-appointed colleagues. “My bet is that any (future) projects will be in Houston.”

Garcia said that Metro lawyers will finalize the ballot language by Aug. 17. The deadline for Metro to submit the referendum so it is included on the November ballot is Aug. 20.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at@michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of light rail by flickr user wordjunky, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Jim Vance
Wednesday, 08/08/2012 - 10:09AM

So in other words, the ballot question will likely either be for an explicit 75-25 split or the implicit split under the general mobility sharing agreement which enables a lot of internal jockeying and (insider) horse-trading on an annual basis to work out politically acceptable "solutions"? Sounds like just another round of "Who's on First?" among the insiders-du-jour....

La Mejicana
Monday, 08/13/2012 - 05:13PM

The question should be- what have these entities spent the 25% on? Did they repave a golf course street? Did they pay for police officers, to check up on constituents houses when they are on vacation (Bellaire)? Has anyone ever audited the expenditures? And why are the taxpayers paying mutliple times for roads?

Adrienne
Tuesday, 10/09/2012 - 01:02PM

So in an era of inflated gas prices, the environment rapidly going down the drain, and horrible traffic we want to divert funds from the central area where it could actually be helped to alleviate all of this so suburbanites don't have to deal with a pothole? How about contributing that money to bike lanes within riding distance of major work centers (downtown, med center, galleria) instead?

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