The Metro board today voted to send a straight up or down choice to the voters to continue the diversion of transit funds to 15 cities and unincorporated Harris County or end it. The proposal that won came from Chairman Gilbert Garcia, who abandoned his earlier proposal for a cap. Harris County and the muliticities representatives voted against the proposal and the City appointees voted for it. [Note: Houston Tomorrow has advocated for a straight up or down vote].
Video of the meeting is available here along with pdfs of the two presentations that were shown.
The board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County has finalized its proposal for a ballot referendum in November. Voters that live in Metro’s service area will be allowed to choose whether to continue a controversial revenue-sharing program. But there is a small twist, according to a report from KUHF:
Metro is the regional transit agency, in charge of buses, light rail and Park and Rides. It’s funded by a one-cent sales tax.
But since 1988, Metro has shared one-quarter of that tax with Harris County and 15 cities and towns, like Houston, Katy and Bellaire. The cities and county can use the money for their own road and bridge projects.
But that agreement expires soon, and voters must decide what to do in November.
The chairman of Metro’s board, Gil Garcia, wanted some of that diverted money to stay with Metro.
“I’m worried for the public. Because I know transit needs are increasing, rapidly. So I’m concerned we may not have the funds to meet those needs, and that’s everything from the bus system, rail, Park and Rides, it’s the totality of the system.”
The new ballot proposal will give voters with the following choice:
A ‘no’ vote would end the diversion of money, called the General Mobility Program. Metro would get to keep the entire one-cent sales tax.
A ‘yes’ vote would continue the program but would change how the diverted money gets divided up between cities and the county.
David Crossley is an advocate for mass transit. He says Metro really needs all the money so it can cope with sprawling growth and a booming population.
“If you voted no for this, that would end the program and all the money would begin to flow to Metro.”
But Crossley says a ‘yes’ vote would at least bring more fairness to the revenue-sharing program.
Right now, some of the smaller cities get back more money from the Metro program than they contribute in sales tax. But Houston gets less money.
“There’s no rhyme or reason when you look to see why does Piney Point get $16 back for every dollar they put in, and the city gets 20 cents back for every dollar they put in.”
A ‘yes’ vote would adjust the revenue sharing, so Houston would get a bigger share of the money, while Harris County and some smaller cities would get less. Katy, Humble, and Missouri City would get about the same.
The ballot language allows time for another referendum by 2021, time that Metro Board Member Christof Spieler sees as an opportunity to pull the region together on comprehensive transporatation funding, according to Texas Watchdog, but many worry that this vote left the Metro Board divided, as noted by the Houston Chronicle.