Election day in November is important. Americans will decide between Obama or Romney. Houstonians & other members of the service area of the Metropolitan Transit Authority -Metro-will decide a referendum on whether or not Metro will continue to give Harris County & cities, including the City of Houston, 25% of the sales tax money raised for transit.
2012 General Mobility Program Referendum
In keeping with a promise METRO made to voters in the 2003 referendum, the agency will soon be asking the citizens of this region to vote on the future of METRO's General Mobility Program (GMP).
As spelled out in the 2003 referendum, this vote will seek a determination by voters regarding METRO's continuing support of the GMP, which is set to expire Sept. 30, 2014.
The GMP is funded by a 25 percent allocation from METRO's 1-cent sales tax revenue and pays for the construction and maintenance of:
Streets and roadways
Bridges and grade separations
Sidewalks and hike and bike trails
Drainage improvements related to transportation facilities, streets, roads or traffic-control improvements
The other 75 percent of METRO's sales tax revenue goes toward METRO programs, including local and Park & Ride bus service, light rail, vanpool, HOV-lane operations and METROLift.
The program was started by Houston Mayor Bob Lanier in the 90's. Metro money built lots of sidewalks in Houston on roads that previously had none. Mayor Lanier stopped construction of a rail line despite approval of a referendum for a rail system in 1988. Construction of a rail line began in 2001 & the Red Line opened in 2004. The line was constructed completely with Metro funds because Rep. Tom DeLay blocked $65 million in Federal funds for the project. History seems to be repeating itself, as Rep. John Culberson has blocked funding for Metro. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said she would put money for Metro back into the 2012 Transportation bill, but they decided to ban earmarks in the bill. Currently. Metro is building three lines to connect to the Main St. Red Line: the North Line, the Southeast Line, & the East End Line. The University Line, & the Uptown Line have been postponed for lack of funding.
So what has been Metro's response to this? Continuing the sharing program. Here's Chronicle columnist Bill King:
I received something last week that I thought I would never see. It was an invitation to a political fundraiser co-hosted by Houston Mayor Annise Parker and County Commissioner Steve Radack. To say that Parker and Radack are a political odd couple might be the understatement of the year. So what brought this unlikely couple together?
The invitation was for a reception in support of the "For" side of the upcoming Metro referendum. If you have not been following this issue, Metro is holding a referendum in November on whether to continue its general mobility payments. . . .
All of these entities have over the years become increasingly dependent on the general mobility payments as a revenue source. In 2003, the city of Houston received about $44 million. It used $10 million of that on general fund expenses and allocated the balance to capital projects. This year the city will use $50 million for the general fund to pay for about 500 Public Works employees who perform street and traffic functions. If the city were to lose the general mobility payments, it would blow a huge hole in an already tough budget. Several of the smaller cities have said that if they lose the payments, their residents will face significant tax increases. . . .
This is why Harris county & the cities want to continue the program. Who would turn down free money? Transit advocates
are concerned. They want the University Line & the Uptown Line built.
What No (against) Means
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
What could give transit advocates hope is that in the last poll mentioning the Metro referendum, 61% said they would vote against it. In fact, part of Mr. King's column above mentions what would happen if the vote goes against sharing. He predicts the Texas Legislature would come down hard on Metro by letting the County appoint the board. Which is mind boggling when you think about it. The Texas Lege is going to go against a vote of the People? Really? And what will the re-elected Obama do?
Metro is spending $650,000 to push the yes vote. The folks against continued sharing of Metro funds are trying to raise $10,000.
You may contribute to this effort here. Go to the bottom of the page & click on Financial Support .