in Houston, Texas
Metro board wants voters in November to say yes to sales tax sharing plan (Correction Appended)
Friday, Aug 17, 2012, 05:25PM CST
By Mike Cronin
Metro

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board Friday voted 8-1 to ask voters in November to approve a sales tax sharing plan with its partner communities through 2025.

The compromise plan by board chairman Gilbert Garcia continues the current agreement in which Metro distributes up to 25 percent of the sales tax revenue it collects every year to Harris County, Houston and 14 other cities.

If voters say yes, any sales tax growth above what the transit authority collects in 2014 would be split equally by Metro and its service areas for the following 10 years.

Garcia estimated the amount of added revenue for Metro is about $400 million, critical to paying down existing debt and adding as many as 200 new buses.

“This will help us address two key areas of our mission: fiscal responsibility and ridership,” Garcia said.

In an odd twist, a no vote to reject the Metro proposal in November would actually allow Metro to keep all of the sales taxes it collects.

The Metro Board on Aug. 3 had approved a rough draft for a referendum asking voters directly to approve allowing Metro to keep all of its sale tax revenue.

Board member Christof Spieler said he voted against the referendum language because it does not give enough money to transit, but admitted “this is probably the best deal we can get in the political climate of 2012.”

Organizers for Keep Houston Moving Forward, a political action committee supporting Metro and transit projects created the PAC to seek voter approval for whatever plan the Metro Board approved.

"We want a 'Yes' vote in November for the referendum the Board approved on Friday," PAC spokeswoman Sue Davis told Texas Watchdog. "We are working closely with Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia to support the ballot initiative."

Houston Rapid Transit JV, a contractor for Metro has donated $20,000 to the PAC, according to a Texas Tribune database.

It comprises the  Parsons Transportation Group, of Pasadena, Calif.; Granite Construction Company, of Watson, Calif.; Kiewit Texas Construction L.P. of Fort Worth; and Stacy and Witbeck, Inc., an engineering company based in Alameda, Calif.

Keep Houston Moving Forward hired Storefront Political Media, “a San Francisco-based Democratic political consulting firm,” for $42,000 for “consulting and message development,” documents filed with the Texas Ethics Commission show.

Mayor Annise Parker hired Storefront Political Media for her 2009 campaign, according to the company’s website. Parker appoints five of Metro’s nine board members: Garcia, Spieler, Vice Chairman Allen Watson, Carrin Patman, Dwight Jefferson and are the others.

The PAC also hired two other companies for consulting work: Houston-based Lone Star Strategies LLC for $5,000 and K Chace Consulting for about $14,000.

On the “yes” side of the referendum is Houstonians for Responsible Growth, a political action committee that would not like to see revenue cut for road construction and maintenance in Houston’s suburbs.

Kendall Miller, president of the development company, Tanglewood Corporation, has donated $6,000 to support it.

The two other real estate executives who have donated $6,000 to the Houstonians for Responsible Growth PAC are Stephen Sweet, South Texas division partner at Alliance Residential Company, of Phoenix; and James Gustafson of Houston’s The Gustafson Group.

Walter Mischer Jr., partner at Mischer Investments, L.P and part of the well-known Houston family line of developers donated $2,500 to the PAC.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that the Keep Houston Moving Forward PAC wanted a 'no' vote on the November ballot initiative. Texas Watchdog regrets the error. In addition, an earlier version of this story linked to another company from the K Chace Consulting hyperlink. That hyperlink also misspelled the company. That link has been removed and the name fixed.

***
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 Metro by flickr user hyku, used via a Creative Commons license.

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