The Metro Referendum



For months now, we have been posting about the bond elections on the ballot. Today, we focus on the confusing Metro referendum. What is it exactly that you are being ask to vote on regarding Metro?

This ballot item is probably the most “insider” game question as well. Many years ago, Metro was asked to take .25 cents of the one cent sales tax it collects and refund it to cities in its service area and Harris County. This money, the General Mobility Payment (GMP), is to be used to repair wear and tear on roads that are damaged by bus travel and to ease traffic in congested corridors. It actually made sense.

If anyone has driven down Westheimer (inside the loop portion) or Richmond Avenue or Hillcroft, you know the road damage caused by buses as well as the traffic jams they create as they start and stop to unload passengers. Yet, you also know that this is a necessity.

The recipients of these funds are not obligated to repair specific intersections or to even guarantee that the funds will be used on bus routes. Their dollars are allocated and may be used on road repairs of their choosing.

As a result of the 2003 Metro referendum that authorized the expansion of rail lines, it was promised that the GMP policy would be revisited. Thus, Metro was forced to add the issue to the ballot.

Voters basically have a very clear choice. A “yes” vote indicates that you want the cities and Harris County to continue receiving their .25 cent share of the Metro sales tax for road repair and any future increases that Metro receives will primarily support bus operations.

A “no” vote means that you want the money to revert back to Metro and to be used for transit, without any strings attached.

The negotiations on this ballot language have been an intense political process. The Metro Board originally submitted different language. Harris County leaders were not happy with it and negotiated revised language that would keep the GMP dollars flowing to them and the cities in the region. Why would the Metro Board change their minds?

It mostly has to do with the Texas Legislature. Metro is created through enabling legislation at the state level. Harris County leadership is primarily Republican as is the incoming Texas Legislature. There could be an aggressive effort to change legislation if they are not happy with the outcome of the referendum.

This is all so complicated because every local government entity is scrambling for funds and trying to avoid tax increases. If they lose the GMP dollars from Metro, there will be severe consequences to their budgets.

As a voter, you need to decide if you want to keep the money flowing to the cities and having Metro operate on .75 cents of their sales tax or if you want Metro to have their whole penny. It really is a fairly simple choice, once you understand the issue.