Put these two dates on your calendar with flags on them: May 11 and May 8.
May 11 at 9 am is when the Metro board will have a public hearing about the long practice of the cities and Harris County siphoning off billions of dollars of transit tax for non-transit purposes.
Metro is under what one insider calls “titanic” pressure to continue the practice. Apparently, the 14 smaller cities, the City of Houston, and Harris County have come to depend on the money, which has been flowing to them since at least 1988.
As a result, planned transit expansions have mostly not happened. Indeed, the Metro board chair told a Greater Houston Partnership committee today that the Metro system is actually shrinking and will continue to shrink without all the sales tax money voters approved for transit in 1978.
The smaller cities have banded together, hired a consultant, and are threatening whoever will listen that they will ask to be let out of the Metro system if they lose the money.
As they make such threats, their citizens and the other citizens of Harris County have told the Kinder Houston Area Survey that they want all the transit money to go to transit by a 55%-40% margin. The number grows as the survey samples people further out. So here is yet another clear example of elected officials having completely different priorities from their voters.
The current “compromise” plan that’s being bandied about would cap the payments in 2014 to whatever the dollar number is for that year, and that would be that. If sales taxes rise, which is not a certainty, Metro eventually would start to get some more money. If they do rise as Metro is projecting, the University line would go into service about 2023. You know, the next decade and then some.
If you think the transit system should expand now (not contract), then make a point of saying so at the May 11 public hearing. That will be at 9 am in the Metro board room at 1900 Main, the Downtown Transit Center rail stop.
Note that Metro has the unusual practice of requiring persons wishing to speak to the board to sign in 48 hours ahead of time by calling 713-739-4834. For practical purposes, then, the deadline is the previous day, Tuesday, May 8, at 5 pm.
If you miss the deadline show up anyway, bring a sign, a t-shirt. Everybody dress in green.
But whatever you do, go here for a quick way to send an email to Mayor Parker and each Metro board members.
Originally published in the Houston Chronicle’s blog feature The List.
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