May 06, 2003
A bumpy ride for Metro so far

Since first announcing their new longterm vision for mobility in Houston, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has run into the usual opposition from the usual suspects. The most controversial part of Metro's plan is their proposed method of payment for rail, which is to cease disbursing 25 percent of its funds for road mantenance among its participating municipalities. This will be a tough but not impossible thing to sell for a referendum in November.

Except they may not get the chance if Senate Bill 1939 passes. Proposed by Sen. Jon Lindsay (R-Houston), a former Harris County Judge, the bill would mandate that Metro continue to spend 25% of its revenue to "fund construction and improvements to roads and bridges located within the boundaries of the authority". It also mandates the creation of a three-person subcommittee that would have absolute authority to spend that 25%.

So much for federalism - Lindsay would preempt an upcoming election and have Austin tell Metro what to do with its money instead of letting the locals have a say, something he has a long history of doing. With that attitude, if he were only thirty years younger, he'd have a great future in the national party.

To its credit, Metro is going ahead with public meetings about their proposal. They got a better reception at the first one than they have from politicos so far. Maybe Lindsay is right to be paranoid, as the Chron editorial from Sunday (reprinted below the More link) suggests.

I didn't write about this right away, mostly because it happened at the end of the week and I wanted to relax over the weekend. Two different people prodded me about it, which is fine by me - I aim to please around here. One of the two, my old college buddy Patrick, wondered if I'd be able to write this piece without saying "rat bastard" or "son of a bitch" every other sentence. I've achieved inner peace, Patrick. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to take my meds.

UPDATE: It's not on their web page yet, but the Katy Corridor Coalition has sent out email asking people to call/write/fax Sens. Lindsay, Rodney Ellis, and Steve Ogden, as well as Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, to express their opposition to SB 1939. The contact information is as follows:

The Honorable Jon Lindsay
15531 Kuykendahl
Houston, Texas 77090
(281) 583-1011
(281) 444-0189(fax)

The Honorable Rodney G. Ellis
440 Louisiana, Suite 575
Houston, Texas 77002
(713) 236-0306
email: Contact form

The Honorable Steve Ogden
P.O. Box 12068
Capitol Station
Austin, Texas 78711
(512) 463-0105
email: Contact form

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst
Capitol Station
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, Texas 78711
512 463-0001
email: Contact form

Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: SUN 05/04/03
Section: OUTLOOK
Page: 2
Edition: 4 STAR

RUNAWAY / Legislation would derail city transit,clean air plans


Barreling down the legislative fast track in Austin is a late-train bill
filed by state Sen. Jon Lindsay , R-Houston, that could derail this city's
mobility and clean air efforts, disenfranchise local voters and undercut the
oversight of Houston's City Council and Harris County Commissioners Court.

The list of things wrong with Lindsay 's Senate Bill 1939 , filed late last
week and scheduled for an express-run committee hearing in Austin on Monday,
is longer than a box car.

The bill would require the Metropolitan Transit Authority, alone among all
transit authorities in the state (and perhaps in the country), to dedicate
in perpetuity 25 percent of its tax revenues to fund construction and
improvements to roads and bridges. It would also set up a three-member
"subcommittee" of the Metro board to determine which construction projects
to fund with the money. The full board could not alter the subcommittee's

With a massive plan to expand bus, rail and HOV services on the table for
local voters in November, the first question is obvious. Is Lindsay afraid
of a popular vote?

Taking this decision out of the hands of hundreds of thousands of Metro
voters and proposing to put it into the hands of the Legislature is an
affront to fair play - and an absolute betrayal of the promise of a popular
vote on Metro plans.

But then, maybe that is its specific intent. Polls show that Metro has
support for its transit plan. Depending on how details are fleshed out, it
has a chance to win in November, and that must incense the handful of
powerful political operators here whose long-standing opposition to any
element of rail transit is a matter of record.

Congressional leaders in Washington have said they will look more favorably
on funding requests for a plan that has voter approval. So, perhaps this is
yet another tactic to make sure that funding that goes to Dallas and other
cities around the country continues to be denied to Houston.

Metro board Chairman Arthur Schechter says if Lindsay's bill were in place
it would effectively kill the transit agency's ability to build and operate
the system it has laid out.

That would waste the thousands of hours already spent on planning,
collaboration with other agencies and seeking political consensus. Lindsay's bill would also render moot the plans to hold public hearings on Metro's
proposal and would neuter citizens' ability to affect the plan, since no
plan for transit improvements could go forward.

Lindsay could show up and have his say at the public hearings this month
instead of trying to disenfranchise Metro voters.

Under the bill, a subcommittee of three members of the Metro board would
determine which mandatory road and bridge projects would be built with Metro
funds. The city, Harris County and the mayors of the small cities within the
Metro service area would each get to name one of the three, an arrangement
that raises both equity and jurisdictional issues.

Almost three-fourths of the Metro tax revenue is collected within the city
of Houston. Why the city should have only one-third of the decision-making
authority on where money gets spent is not clear. It's also not fair.

If successful, this bill could throw our region's effort to meet federal
clean air deadlines by 2007 off the tracks. Meeting those deadlines assumes
a workable transit plan. Without such, it's not simply a matter of "back to
the drawing board" for this region. We won't have the money to buy a drawing
board: Federal funding for transportation will come to a halt, as it did in
Atlanta when that city fell into similar circumstance some years ago.

Lindsay could be more constructive if he tried to make sure Houston -
historically shortchanged - got its fair share of highway, clean air and
other funds coming out of Austin.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 06, 2003 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

I oppose Metro using the 25% for any purpose other than road maintenance and expansion, and I oppose the bill in Austin to dictate how the money is spent. So I suppose that in the real world I will lose on both counts. :-)

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on May 6, 2003 2:09 PM

I read the link on Lindsay from Texas Monthly and asked their legislative reporter, Paul Burka, if it was too early to nominate Sen. Lindsay for this year’s list. In the interest of recycling, I suggested they could use the same write-up from 1999 and just change the date.

Posted by: Patrick on May 6, 2003 3:16 PM

Rail advocates have some gall to critisize Lindsay for preempting a referendum after they rammed the Main Street Line down Houston's collective throat without a public vote before construction began. At least Lindsay is trying to hold Metro to its own stated pledge to use 25% of its funds for road repair until 2009, a continuation of a program approved by voters in the 1988 transit referendum. Nobody else seems to care whether transit officials lie or not.

Besides, I can't see how any rational individual would hold that bulding massive amounts of rail is a more pressing matter than maintaining roads. We have streets in Houston that look like they were transplanted from Bosnia, and people will still need to drive to Park and Rides to use any new rail system. Doesn't it just stand to reason that it's a bad idea to drastically slash the road repair budget?

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on May 7, 2003 2:04 PM

Owen, I believe you are mistaken in your reading of Lindsay’s bill and the Metro proposal. Lindsay’s bill does not hold Metro to its pledge to fund road repair until 2009 nor does it need to. Metro’s proposal simply states that they intend not to renew the 25% funding BEYOND 2009. They are giving local municipalities over 5 years notice so they can make other arrangements. Lindsay’s SB 1939 writes into state law an extension of that funding level in perpetuity. Local officials set that level and they should be able to adjust without having to worry about interference from Austin.

I would agree that people should have been able to vote on the first rail line. But that dog is already dead and if you think the people of Houston should have had a vote on the Main street line, if that was the right thing to do, why would having a vote on rail this time not the right thing?

Metro’s proposal is not “massive amounts of rail”, at least not to me. I would like to have much more, specifically a spur from downtown to Katy. Metro’s proposal is based on what they can afford without a bond.

Lastly, I would not dispute that there are roads in Houston that are in need of repair but the decision years ago to supplement general repair funds with Metro funds was a bad idea. Transit dollars should be used to develop a comprehensive transit system. They got some local authorities hooked on that revenue stream. Well, the junkie has got 5 years to get clean. It won’t be pretty, but it needs to get done.

Posted by: Patrick on May 9, 2003 3:48 PM