Metro has chosen its referendum.
A sharply divided Metro board approved a plan Friday that would give the city of Houston tens of millions of dollars more for road projects under a ballot referendum to be put before voters in November.
The 5-4 vote followed a sometimes strained, four-hour meeting and sparked accusations that city board appointees had orchestrated the move.
“It deprives the unincorporated area of Harris County the funds necessary to continue to build the infrastructure necessary for all the people who don’t want to live in the city of Houston,” said Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack. “It’s disgusting. The growth is in the unincorporated area.”
The proposal passed Friday would treat Houston, Harris County and the other 11 small cities in similar fashion, giving each 25 percent of the sales taxes collected within their boundaries.
Humble, Katy and Missouri City would continue to receive a disproportionately larger share, Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia said, in part, because they sit on the distant edges of Metro’s service area.
The proposal also would require another referendum by 2021.
Should voters reject the proposal, Metro would be entitled to keep all of the sales tax revenues.
Garcia, however, said the mobility projects are important and said Metro would work with its member governments to continue funding them.
Afterward, representatives of the county and smaller cities were incensed, saying the move would shift millions to Houston, where the bulk of local sales taxes are collected.
I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to feel any sympathy for the claims about how the small cities and the rest of the county are being shafted. How many billions of dollars have been spent over the past decade or so building or improving roads out in the farther reaches of the county? I-10, I-45, US59, with 290 and the Grand Parkway to come. My tax dollars help pay for those projects, and I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve been on those roads in the past year. But I recognize that what’s good for the greater region benefits me as well, if indirectly. Why isn’t the same true for improving mobility inside Houston as well? If the bulk of the sales taxes are being collected inside Houston, then that’s where the people are even if it’s not where they sleep. The streets are crowded and the freeway traffic inside the Loop has gotten steadily worse even as all that spending outside the Loop has made it better out there. All the complaints here just sound like sour grapes to me.
Be that as it may, I expect there are plenty of people who see it the way that the county and the small cities do. You’ve seen the Spieler and Sanders guest posts on the referendum, and you’ve seen the dueling polls, the latter of which either didn’t ask this question or didn’t publicize the result if it did. I’ve expressed my concerns about an anti-Metro campaign being waged over this; with this basically being a Houston versus not-Houston question I fully expect that to happen, and I won’t be surprised if the Lege gets involved as well. What’s funny is that as it stands I’m not sure which outcome I’d prefer. Sure, Houston will benefit if it passes, but Metro might benefit more if it doesn’t. In theory, anyway – I rather don’t think any of the stakeholders will let that happen. We’ll see how nasty it gets. A statement from Mayor Parker about this is here, and the Examiner, Texas Watchdog, and Houston Tomorrow have more.