President, Houston Tomorrow
The following is an analysis of the Yes and No votes in the Metro referendum on November 6. Actually, the ballot will say For or Against, but the civic discussion is already framed as Yes and No.
Yes choice impacts
Diversion of transit sales taxes to 15 cities and Harris County continues
- 25%, approximately, of all transit sales taxes collected in the Metro service area will continue to be withheld from Metro in the amount of $2.1 billion.
- Through 2014, the end of the current contracts, Metro will have delivered $2.7 billion to road and other projects in the 16 entities.
- Prevents completion of Metro Solutions plan voters approved in 2003.
- Only change: instead of Metro getting none of the 25%, in 2014 the dollar amounts to the other entities will freeze at that year’s dollar levels, and any increment above that will be split 50/50 between Metro and the other 16 entities.
- Metro estimates that the 50/50 split will add $400 million to its revenues in the 10-year period.
Metro is forbidden from using any of the new increment for rail projects until 2025
- Can only be used for bus-related expenses and debt reduction.
- Effectively kills University and Uptown/Galleria light rail lines. Reason: in 2025, Harris County will probably have the population to force a change in the makeup of the Metro board, relegating the City to minority status. Harris County already has its own rail agency, the Gulf Coast Rail District. It would then control essentially all transit development and service in the region.
- Effectively kills light rail service to Greenspoint, Bush Intercontinental, and Hobby Airport.
- Effectively kills light rail service in the Inner Katy corridor.
- Effectively kills light rail service in the Sunnyside area, Gulfgate Center, and Telephone Road.
- Effectively kills the Southwest Commuter line to the Harris County border.
- Creates connectivity issues for planned commuter rail line out 290.
Continues unfair allocation of funds
- Harris County continues to receive about 56% of the taxes collected in the unincorporated areas of the County.
- City of Houston continues to receive approximately 20% of the taxes collected in the City.
- 14 multicities continue to receive approximately 65% of the taxes collected in their areas.
- City of Houston continues to subsidize growth and development in unincorporated areas of Harris County and in all the multicities, enabling lower tax rates in the other cities.
No choice impacts
In 2014, ends the General Mobility Program approved by voters in 2003
- The 25% of sales taxes that Metro pays out to unincorporated Harris County and 15 multi-cities ends and Metro retains all those funds.
- Presumably, Metro would then pursue completion of the 2003 referendum promises, which include the University light rail line, more bus service, more bus routes, more park and ride lots, more transit centers, and more than 250 miles of 2-way all day park and ride service.
- Presumably, as the University light rail line comes into service, Metro would then proceed to construct the Uptown/Galleria light rail line and the other rail lines promised in 2003
- The other rail service would include Greenspoint, Bush Intercontinental, Hobby Airport, the Inner Katy corridor the Sunnyside area, Gulfgate Center, Telephone Road the Southwest Commuter line to the Harris County border
Harris County and developers have said they would go to the Legislature seeking relief from voter action, possibly including the following:
- Change makeup of Metro board, presumably to give Harris County full control
- Establish the General Mobility Plan permanently, possibly at more than 25%
Mayor, Metro chair statements about the No vote:
- Mayor Parker (KUHF comments): “If the referendum fails, the METRO board can decide anything they want to do with that money and I would fully expect them to commit, going forward, to continuing the general mobility payments in some form. It is naive and, frankly, foolish to simply assume that if it were voted down suddenly 100 percent of that money is spent exclusively on building rail in Houston.” [Note: no one has suggest using the money exclusively for rail, but rather that spending would include rail, completing promise made to voters in 2003 referendum]
- Chairman Garcia (KUHF comment): “If ... this referendum ... did not pass, it would just be even longer before we could take on another rail project because we would need to do these two items — increase the ridership and pay down the debt to have greater capacity.”
After meeting with many people involved in these recent discussions about the future of transit, there appears to be only one reason to vote Yes on this issue and it is this: The Texas Legislature will not allow the people of our region to choose their own destiny. That is, there is understood to be a substantial threat if the people decide they would rather have more transit than less transit.
So it is up to the people to stand up to the threats of some bullies who are sure they can bend the Legislature – our elected representatives in Austin – to their will.
Vote No on a bad deal.
Note: Houston Tomorrow is raising funds to support a vote against the Metro ballot item.
To make comments, please go to the Houston Chronicle blog post.