Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia explains the referendum for those who say they don’t understand it.
The referendum is as easy as 1-2-3. If approved, it will:
1. Continue the road-building program.
2. Expand Metro’s bus system.
3. Pay down Metro’s short-term debt.
Sure, the mathematics of how the money flows to accomplish these items takes work, but building more roads, improving our bus system and paying down debt are the results of a “FOR” vote. And with no increase in your taxes.
The actual ballot language is pretty simple. Voters will be asked to vote FOR or AGAINST: “The continued dedication of up to 25 percent of METRO’s sales and use tax revenues for street improvements and related projects for the period October 1, 2014, through December 31, 2025, as authorized by law and with no increase in the current rate of METRO’s sales and use tax.”
The question we are being asked is indeed pretty simple. What happens after that question gets answered is where it gets complicated. Former Metro VP for Communications George Smalley makes the case for that answer to be No.
Three of the five new rail lines are about half finished; that’s the good news. But the most important was to be the major east-west trunk line known as University. The University Line, you may recall, became snarled in controversy over whether part of it should run on Richmond Avenue. If voters approve the referendum, the University Line will be shelved for at least 10 years and probably longer.
The loss of this key infrastructure of an inside-the-loop collector-distributor light rail system – and its adjacent spur, the Uptown Line on Post Oak Boulevard – would doom effective mass transit anytime soon. The University and Uptown Lines would connect two major employment centers – Greenway Plaza and the Galleria – with downtown, the Texas Medical Center and multiple universities and neighborhoods. This light rail system is what would enable commuters in Missouri City, for example, to ride a future commuter rail line to the Medical Center and then transfer to light rail to reach their jobs in the Galleria.
What’s more, significant amounts of time and treasure have been spent on preliminary engineering, environmental studies and real estate evaluations for the University Line. It is highly unlikely that any meaningful portion of this work could be salvaged if and when the University Line is resuscitated.
So the harsh reality is that the majority who voted in favor of this light rail system in 2003 may not see it.
I’ve said what I had to say last week. If you forced me to make a guess today, I’d feel pretty confident about the bond issues passing, but I don’t have a good feel for this referendum. The politics of it are totally upside down, and despite Chairman Garcia’s explanation, I am confident that some people will vote against the referendum because they think it will deprive Metro of money, and some people will vote for it because they think it will provide more money for light rail. How big these blocs of misinformed voters are, I have no idea. What do you think?