The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County Board of Directors held a special meeting on Monday to discuss the General Mobility Program that provides 25 percent of the sales tax collected for METRO to the various “constituent partners” in the METRO service areas that use the funds for street and road improvements. Video
“The City of Houston receives some 16 percent overall, during the history of the program,” explained METRO President and CEO George Greanias. “Harris County (receives) some 18 percent, the multi-cities - the 14 other cities in our service area - some 16 percent. About four percent really serves the entire service area through the Motorist Assistance Program.” Listen
Seventy-five percent of the sales tax collected for METRO is allocated for mass transit, buses and light rail.
The GMP was established by an election in 1988 and was extended by another election in 2003 and will expire in 2014 unless voters choose to extend it again. The METRO Board scheduled Monday’s meeting to get input on what type of ballot language should be submitted to the voters regarding the program.
Proposals on the table include continuing with 25 percent for the GMP, ending it completely at the end of 2014, or to cap the revenue being generated by the 25 percent, freezing the payments at 2014 levels, and using the additional revenue that will accrue for transit.
Several elected officials from the municipal governments who depend on GMP funds spoke in favor of continuing the GMP, including Houston city council members Oliver Pennington Listen and Stephen Costello Listen and West University Place council member Dick Yehle Listen.
Former Houston city council member Louis Macey, who also served on the METRO board, recalled the history of the GMP. Listen
“My form of transportation is my automobile,” Macey said. “Please continue the 25 percent without a cap.”
Macy suggested that the Texas Legislature may object to a change in the General Mobility Program.
Walter Mischer, Jr., who chaired the Greater Houston Partnership Transportation Committee during the last referendum on the issue, but who said he was speaking for himself, noted the increasing cost of the light rail system and contended that there is sufficient cash flow from the GMP to complete the rail system. Listen
There were advocates of using funds now allocated to the GMP for transit, buses and light rail, including David Crossley. Listen
“I’m David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, and my vision is that on Houston’s 200th birthday it will be home to the healthiest, happiest, most prosperous people in the nation,” he said. “I am also here on behalf of my grandson who is three and one-half years old and had his first light rail ride a little while ago and now thinks that’s the best thing since sliced bread. So, he wants more and when he grows up and is able to move around the city, he wants it to be everywhere.”
Pam Puckett suggested a compromise, saying that she would prefer to use the transit system, but it is not practical for her daily needs. Listen
At the end of the meeting, which lasted almost four hours, METRO Chair Gilbert Garcia thanked those who provided input and encouraged others to make their opinions known before the METRO board decides what to put on the ballot.