At Metro’s board meeting yesterday, trustees presented their proposed ballot referenda for the General Mobility Program.
“I’m anxious to see the outcome just like everybody else,” said Chairman Gilbert Garcia, before anyone offered their specifics.
As it turned out, city-appointee Garcia was one of only two trustees calling for a vote on capping the GMP at 2014 levels. However, Garcia’s proposal also allowed for the option of voting to extend the program until 2030.
City-appointee Allen Watson called for a vote to cap GMP until September 2030, but sought $200 million bond authority for partnerships on non-rail transit.
Dwight Jefferson, a city appointee, said while he, personally, favors a compromise, public comments had led him to call for an “up or down vote” on whether the 25 percent of 1 cent in tax revenues should still go to the partnering entities for road-related projects.
The two other city trustees, Carrin Patman and Christof Spieler offered proposals that would extend the GMP payments until 2016 and 2019, respectively. Another referendum would be held prior to the new expirations.
The joint proposal from the multi-cities trustees Burt Ballanfant and Cindy Siegel, and Harris County appointees Gary Stobb and Lisa Castaneda called for a vote on whether the 25 percent of 1 cent in tax revenues should still go to the partnering entities for road-related projects or be retained by Metro.
Houston Tomorrow put out a report from the meeting as well. Spieler’s proposal, which you can see here, deserves a closer look. For some bizarre reason when I copy from that PDF it adds a line break after every word, so let me paraphrase:
1. Extend the GMP at 25% of Metro’s sales tax through 2019, with each entity getting 25% of the revenue collected within its jurisdiction. I missed that last clause at first glance, but it’s a big deal and quite possibly a dealbreaker for the member cities, since it would benefit Houston and Harris County at their expense.
2. Metro would get another $640 million in bonding authority, the same as they got in the 2003 referendum, based on the 75% of sales tax allocated to transit and contingent on Metro being able to swing it financially.
3. Metro would continue work on the University Line from Wheeler Station west, with roadwork, utilities, and right of way being funded from Houston’s GMP allocation.
There would also be no decrease in bus service or increase in bus or rail fares through 2019. What I like about this proposal is that it gives Metro something in return for continuing to disburse 25% of its sales tax revenue. It allows Metro to take advantage of historically low interest rates, and gives them a way to work around John Culberson. The smaller cities won’t like it, and it’s unclear to me how Harris County would react. The city may balk at being required to commit any of its GMP funds to this project, even though the University Line and the Uptown Line that it would enable are keys to its own mobility future. It’s also unclear how the politics of this will play out once ballot language has been decided and sides have been chosen. One poll suggests that Metro would have an uphill battle to cap the GMP. This is in conflict with the latest Houston Area Survey that showed an upswing in support for transit, but supporting something in the abstract while opposing the specifics is nothing unusual, as anyone familiar with the polling on “the deficit” can attest. (I should have full data on that poll shortly and plan to discuss it more detail when I do.) If Spieler’s proposal gains traction, there’s certainly room within it for compromise.
Spieler’s proposal is one of many, and the board put off discussing them all until August 3, so we won’t know what we’re going to get on the ballot until then. As I understand it, it’s also possible for the board to simply re-authorize the GMP for another number of years and put off having a referendum until that time. The range of possible outcomes is still pretty wide, in other words. What’s your preference?
UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.