In Focus

METRO backs off plan to change mobility fund terms

Friday, August 03, 2012

For decades METRO's given local cities 25 percent of all the sales tax it brings in.

It's billions of dollars some on the METRO board wanted to keep to expand transit in the area, but on Thursday decided to keep giving it away.

But we realized a decision not to change actually changes a lot.

METRO Friday decided to leave its so-called general mobility payments in place, giving away a quarter of its revenue as it has for years.

If voters go along, it means the promises METRO made almost ten years ago won't come true.

Twice a day every day Marquis Washington takes an hour-long bus trip to and from school.

"It's always on time," he said.

Washington just needs the bus to be there. He isn't keeping score with a nearly 10-year-old METRO promise to expand regional bus service by 50 percent.

METRO made the deal with voters in 2003, but since then, bus service actually shrank.

"That's not a good thing. They need to put some more buses out," Washington said.

But METRO says it doesn't have the cash to do it, or do any more rail construction once the lines currently underway are done. Meaning no rail on Richmond until at least 2023, breaking another promise METRO made with voters 9 years ago.

"A lot of what we hope we were getting in 2003, we will not be get in the time period we thought we were going to get in 2003. That's the reality of this," METRO board member Christof Speiler said.

But the delayed if not broken expansion promise is just one of the problems with METRO's decision Friday.

"The dollars in, dollars out will be distributed differently," METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

The deal before voters in November will dramatically increase the city of Houston's share of METRO payouts while drastically cutting payouts to Harris County and smaller cities by millions every year.

It is no doubt a difficult spot for METRO, maybe a tougher spot for riders who were counting on more service.

"If you knew I didn't keep a promise 10 years ago, would you believe the promise I make you today?" we asked Washington:

"No. You broke a promise already, so why should I believe you?" he said.

Some of the smaller cities have called this deal a money grab by Houston. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said this will be a hard deal to support.

Mayor Annise Parker, who campaigned on expanded bus service years ago, said Friday she would've liked to see more money move to transit but this maintains balance.

It will be on the November ballot for you to decide.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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