METRO drastically slashes budget
HOUSTON It was a drastic step that the new leaders of METRO say was necessary. But how will it affect you? The construction is already underway. There's not much Mark Rodriguez can do about the impending light rail line that will cross in front of his business. But he doesn't have to like it. "Change is always good, but there are a lot of other places that need rail more than Harrisburg," said Rodriguez. METRO admits it won't be able to silence its longtime critics, but at its latest board meeting, the new CEO and the mostly new board are making some tough changes. "We're presenting a very difficult budget with a lot of sacrifice, not in service, not in service," said METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia. METRO's new, realistic budget is much smaller than past years. The agency's prior budget is $1.34 billion, but the anticipated budget for the next fiscal year is $955 million. That's a $430 million budget cut, or 31 percent. "Right now, it's important to protect our services - that means no fare increase in the next fiscal year," said George Greanias, the acting CEO who was voted unanimously Thursday to the permanent post. Greanias says the transit agency will not cut bus or rail service, but it will slow down construction projects related to light rail expansion. He admits while bus drivers won't be losing their jobs, don't be surprised if some well-paid executives may be looking for work elsewhere. "There are already a number of departures, and there will be more, as we are right-sizing the department," Greanias said. As for Rodriguez, all that sounds good, but what would sound better is the end of light rail construction. "I don't see a need for it here," he reiterated. Other critics say despite budget slashing, they remain unsatisfied. "The board needs to go a different direction and the really good news is they can't afford to do what they told voters, and the economy is going to get them in the end," said Paul Magaziner with the Mobility Coalition. "The sooner they realize that, the less money taxpayers are gonna lose. They need to stop and start all over again." METRO says it is committed to building the light rail lines and it is working with the federal government to do whatever it takes to get the funding.