Just days before the Metro board is set to approve referendum language, city of Houston and Harris County leaders strike a deal to alter the general mobility program, according to The Houston Chronicle:
The new agreement comes as the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority prepares to meet Friday to approve language for a November ballot item asking voters whether to extend these payments, known as the “general mobility” program.
The program, in place formally since 1988, gives a fourth of Metro’s 1 percent sales tax revenues to Houston, Harris County and the 14 small cities in the transit agency’s service area for road, bridge, sidewalk and other such projects.
The Metro board on Aug. 3 approved a ballot proposal that would have shifted tens of millions of dollars more in mobility payments to Houston at the expense of the county and small cities by basing the payments on where sales taxes are collected.
Monday’s tentative deal - reached in a meeting among Houston Mayor Annise Parker, County Commissioner Steve Radack, Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia and Greater Houston Partnership chairman Tony Chase - scrapped that approach, participants said.
The county and cities’ current mobility contracts expire in 2014. Under the new proposal, any increases in sales tax revenues above 2014 levels would be split half-and-half between Metro and its member governments, sources said.
That formula would continue until Metro had collected about $400 million under the arrangement, County Judge Ed Emmett said. Sources differed on whether that was projected to occur in 2024 or 2026.
Radack and Emmett stressed that the proposed deal would require Metro to spend its share of the tax revenue increase on buses, bus shelters and paying down debt, not on light rail lines.
Advocacy groups that have called for the continuation of or the end of mobility payments said they needed more information about the proposal before commenting on it. However, Citizens Transportation Coalition board member Rebecca Tapick said she hoped the Metro board would follow through on its commitment to transparency in discussing the referendum.
Metro had no motivation to turn other agencies against it, Houston political consultant Keir Murray said, just as Parker had no interest in making new political enemies a year before a reelection bid. County leaders, meanwhile, wanted to be seen as delivering for their constituents.
“You don’t often see Commissioners Court and the city of Houston getting together to work something out,” Murray said. “It speaks to the seriousness of the issue for all parties. We’re talking about a lot of money for all the players here.”
Houston Tomorrow president David Crossley said “We are stunned by the campaign Harris County elected officials seem to be waging against the majority of their constituents who live in the City of Houston. This attempt to stifle regional growth and economic prosperity in favor of low density speculative development in the unincorporated County doesn’t make sense.”