METRO Board Reconsiders How To Share Revenues

 

Whenever you buy anything in the region served by METRO, one cent of your sales tax goes to fund the transit agency.

For years, METRO has rebated 25 percent of that money back to Harris County, the City of Houston and all the smaller municipalities in the service area to be used for street improvements.

But that revenue-sharing program is set to expire and voters must decide whether to extend it or not this November.

What's up for debate right now, is exactly how that money should be shared, if the voters decide to extend the program.

This is METRO board member Christof Spieler.

"What was adopted by the board was a very simple proposal. It was an extension of general mobility at the current 25 percent and it put in place an allocation formula where each of the member jurisdictions got back 25 percent of what they contributed in sales tax. There was clearly some unhappiness with that proposal."

The unhappiness stemmed from the fact that under the previous revenue-sharing formula, some smaller municipalities get back more than they put in. If that sounds unfair, consider that some cities like Bunker Hill Village, are almost entirely residential and therefore generate little or no sales tax. So the proposal that was passed last week would leave smaller cities getting almost nothing back from METRO for street improvements, while municipalities like the City of Houston would get the lion's share of the rebate.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker says the proposal was so unpopular that she met with METRO and Harris County officials to negotiate a different plan.

"What is being pitched to the METRO board now is closest to what was Chairman Garcia's proposal that the general mobility funds be capped in 2014 and all growth go to METRO. Now it is that the general mobility funds will be recorded in 2014 and all incremental growth be split between the small cities and METRO."

Parker says the proposal gives METRO more of the overall pie in the coming years, but the smaller cities will still be able to grow.

Meanwhile, Christof Spieler says although he hasn't seen the details of this new proposal yet, he's pleased with the transit agency's flexibility and willingness to renegotiate.

"The more people are on board with the proposal, the better it is. And I would say in a broader sense, as a region, we don't solve our transportation problems unless we build coalitions behind solutions. So I think having everybody be part of the discussion is important and that's been the goal in this process from the beginning. And I'm glad those kinds of discussions are still happening."

The METRO board will meet at 9 a.m. tomorrow to hear the new proposal and vote on it. They must finalize ballot language by early next week in order to meet federal deadlines for the November election.

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