The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County today voted 8-1 to approve a compromise in the final ballot language of a November referendum to propose continuing the General Mobility Program from its current expiration in 2014 to 2025, with funds from increased sales tax revenues over 2014 levels to be split between METRO and members who currently receive money through the General Mobility Program.
Board Chair Gilbert Garcia addressed the board regarding his amended proposal, calling it a compromise between those wanting increased funding for METRO and those wanting to continue to receive funding under the mobility program, which currently receives 25 percent of sales tax revenues collected through a one-cent sales tax levied by METRO.
“There's an older wiser man who once said that you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need,” Garcia said.
The proposal would provide as much as $400 million to METRO to address what Garcia called two key issues, increasing ridership, and fiscal responsibility.
”The transit agency will be able to enhance our bus service and reduce short-term debt on the balance sheet," Garcia said. "Throughout public discussions and meetings, I have always tried to find some type of compromise between the parties who wanted to continue GMP as it is, or end the program. This measure works toward that goal." Press Release
According to the resolution to place the item on the ballot, “in any METRO fiscal year in which the amount of sales and use tax revenues collected by METRO is greater than the 2014 collection, the 25 percent Street Improvement Dedication portion of such additional amount, the 'Incremental Collection', shall be divided equally, with 50 percent of the Incremental Collection being paid to Harris County, the City of Houston and other cities within METRO's jurisdiction and 50 percent of the Incremental Collection being retained by METRO”. Ballot Referendum Resolution
The half of additional sales tax revenues collected for METRO, which would deliver the approximately $400 million in increased funding, would be dedicated to paying down up to $200 million in short term commercial paper debt previously issued by METRO, and to fund an increase in the number of buses, bus shelters, park and ride facilities, bus transit centers and bus operating facilities.
Christof Spieler, the sole opposing vote, said the referendum was a political compromise and not driven by policy, and expressed concern for rail expansion under the plan.
“I believe that politically this is actually the right thing to do right now, but I think, frankly I don't feel comfortable voting a yes on something that does to the University line what this does,” Spieler said.
Spieler did applaud the efforts by the board and staff, and said the new proposal was an improvement.
“I do actually think this is better than where we were last time,” Spieler said.
No other action items were on the agenda. All members were present. Agenda