New METRO deal means millions of dollars less for city of Houston

August 16, 2012 10:00:00 PM PDT
A new deal for METRO means millions less for Houston and the mayor's fine with it. Ted Oberg Investigates what METRO's grand compromise means for riders, taxpayers and you.

METRO shares the cash it brings in with the city and county and other partners. On Friday, METRO voted to keep a bunch more of that cash in the future. But it comes at a cost to the transit agency and means promises METRO made years ago still won't be met.

Ten years ago, METRO promised to build the so-called University Light Rail Line, which would've run from Hillcroft in southwest Houston, through Greenway and downtown all the way to U of H.

But on Friday it was put off at least 15 more years.

"This is not a happy day," said Christof Speiler, METRO board member.

He was the only METRO board member to vote no.

"The vote today ... we can't live up to the promises we made in 2003 and everyone needs to know that," Speiler said.

What it does do is calm the political waves. METRO's given away billions from its sales tax revenue to help cities and Harris County build roads. The cities and county didn't want to give that up.

But Friday's deal also increases METRO's share.

"If you think of dollars in, dollars out, mobility goes down because we keep more of it," said METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia.

The new deal will continue to give Houston, Harris County and 14 smaller cities 25 percent of whatever METRO takes in in 2014. But if the economy improves and METRO collects more, it will keep half of the growth, something it doesn't do now. The deal will cost the city of Houston $162 million over the next 11 years.

"Houston would've gotten more money," said Garcia.

Houston was counting on the cash for its ReBuild Houston plan to improve streets and drainage across the city, enough to fund nearly a full year of improvements.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker on Friday acknowledged the cut but told us, "Even though this slightly affects ReBuild Houston's funding, METRO's contributions to that program are not enough to outweigh the need to have a strong and secure regional transit system."

The extra money for METRO will go to buy buses and shelters; none of it can go to rail until at least 2025. It all goes to voters in November and not all of them are happy.

"It does not benefit the citizens at all," said Marcie Perry with the Citizens Transit Coalition.

METRO says the deal will expand bus service and pay down debt, putting it in a better position to expand 12 years from now.

The one piece of this puzzle we'll keep looking at is the loss of cash to the city of Houston. Tonight on Eyewitness News at 10pm we're looking at where that cash was destined -- ReBuild Houston, the program to renovate Houston's infrastructure, partly with your drainage fee. Critics say it's off to a slow start and this cut could slow it further.


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