More consensus this time.
The board voted 8-1 for a measure that, if approved by voters, would continue the so-called General Mobility Program in its current form, allocating a quarter of Metro’s 1-cent sales tax to Harris County, Houston and 14 small cities in Metro’s service area. The local governments use these funds for road and bridge projects.
However, the payments would be capped at 2014 levels, and any growth in revenues from October 2014 through December 2025 would be split evenly between Metro and the other jurisdictions. Another referendum on whether to continue the payments would be required prior to Dec. 31, 2025.
If voters reject the ballot measure, the payments would stop and Metro would retain all its sales tax proceeds.
See here for some background. Christof Spieler was the lone No vote on the amended referendum. I had the opportunity to hear Metro board Chair Gilbert Garcia speak about the new referendum after the board voted on it, and he said that this agreement would mean an extra $400 million for Metro from 2014 through 2025, which Metro would use to pay down debt as well as to provide more buses and bus shelters, with the aim of increasing overall ridership and thus broadening support for transit and Metro overall. Garcia noted that retiring some of the debt that Metro now carries would free up other funds for rail – he certainly agreed that the University line is critical to the overall system, that he thought the sales tax projections might be low given the starting point of a sluggish economy, and that the Metro board can call for another referendum to revisit the GMP allocation again any time before 2025. This isn’t ideal, but it’s better than what was originally proposed in that it will actually provide more money for Metro, while likely avoiding a contentious campaign. There’s definitely something to that. We’ll see how it plays out from here.