August 14, 2004
DeLay embraces METRO

Has anyone noticed an upswing in dogs and cats cohabitating lately? Rivers running upstream? I'm at a loss for how else to explain this.

Houston leaders responded with enthusiasm Friday to an apparent warming of relations between U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

"I consider this to be a real positive, and perhaps a turning point, for improved mass transit in our region," Mayor Bill White said. "Metro has established a good relationship with Mr. DeLay, which is critical to getting the mass-transit funding we need."

DeLay, who has opposed Metro rail plans for more than a decade and blocked federal funds for the Main Street light rail line that opened in January, told the Texas Transportation Summit here that he's impressed with the agency's commitment to explore possible alternatives for future lines.

"Metro's new leadership, it's becoming clearer by the day, has a vision for a mobile Houston region, and the kind of open minds and flexible management style it will take to realize that vision," DeLay, R-Sugar Land, told attendees Friday morning.

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels called DeLay's comments a welcome development: "It is good for the city to see a Metro board and a mayor that are interested in working with Tom to really get the solutions for transit in our community."


"The majority leader is challenging us to work together as a region," said Garrett Dolan, vice president of the Greater Houston Partnership."He's painting a picture for us to look at innovative rail solutions, and we are 100 percent behind the idea."

Previously, DeLay has suggested that Metro needs a more advanced system than light rail.

After his speech, DeLay said he was pleased "they are finally doing something that Metro has never done: They are holding a forum to look at all forms of technology and how those technologies fit into the mobility in Houston, and how it will benefit the taxpayers in getting the biggest bang for the buck."

I want to see what happens next before I make any judgments about DeLay's apparent shift in attitude. Suffice it to say for now that I still don't see any reason to trust him.

Not everyone is on board with this New Attitude.

While the transit authority's relationship with DeLay appears to be warming, another of Metro's congressional critics offered his strongest comments yet against rail.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, suggested during a Thursday discussion with other Texas representatives at the Irving summit that the quickest way to reduce the highway funding shortfall would be to abolish federal assistance for mass-transit projects. One of the major themes of this year's Texas Transportation Summit is what to do about road needs that are far outpacing the government's ability to pay for them.

Culberson said revenues from the federal gasoline tax should be limited to the Highway Trust Fund. A portion of the tax drivers pay at the pump now goes to the Federal Transit Administration.

"Transit is taking 11 percent of the money but they don't contribute a nickel," Culberson said. "It's carrying less than 1 percent of the traffic. I'm afraid rail in Houston is going to be a white elephant and a boat anchor around the neck of taxpayers."

Though Culberson spoke out vigorously last year against Metro's rail referendum, his comments about ending federal subsidies for mass transit appeared to surprise other panelists and many in the audience.

"If Houston wants to give us a little more of that transit money for Dallas, we'd be glad to take it," said Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, who earlier had alluded to the fact that Dallas got ahead in building light rail because of Houston's failed past plans.

More of the same old same old. Maybe they're playing good cop/bad cop, I don't know. Like I said, I want to see what comes next. I can't help but feel there's a shoe dangling somewhere, and I want to see where it drops.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 14, 2004 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

Think it might have something to do with the election? IIRC, Culbertson is unopposed and could care less what the Chron thinks.

DeLay, on the other hand, actually has credible opposition and wasn't endorsed by the Chron in '02. Who knows? He might figure they might actually endorse Morrison, the Democrat.

I suspect you're right vis-a-vis good cop/bad cop.

Posted by: Charles M on August 14, 2004 9:40 PM

Yeah, that certainly occurred to me. Culberson is in fact opposed, but not to anywhere near the same degree as DeLay is.

FWIW, DeLay hasn't actually been endorsed by the Chron since 1998. They made no endorsement in 2000 and endorsed Tim Riley in 2002. With a better funded challenger in Richard Morrison, DeLay may want to change that this year. I mean, I don't think that's high on his priority list, but I can believe it matters to him.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 14, 2004 10:22 PM

Morrison isn't credible, but the Majority Leader would surely prefer not to underachieve in a majority Republican district that he should own.

Posted by: kevin whited on August 15, 2004 12:50 PM

While being far from myopic, I am sick and tired of the "Morrison isn't credible" meme. DeLay has flip flopped on teacher's social security and now on mass transit, two of Morrison's core issues - education and mobility. The "Hammer" realizes that his base is softening because they are sick and tired of being represented by a corrupt and valueless man. Does this mean they will all vote for Morrison, doubtful, but maybe they will stay home or not check the Republican box.

Posted by: Bill on August 15, 2004 1:28 PM

I differ with the read on Morrison's chances. He has a tremendously committed campaign organization behind him and there are plenty of Rs out there who are embarrassed, insulted and just plain angry with Teedle-aye. His last minute cozying up to Metro should be pretty transparent to most of the folks who have been working their hearts out for rational transportation systems over the years.

Posted by: TF on August 15, 2004 1:53 PM

Morrison isn't credible - KW

You wish, kevin.

A lot depends on what happens to DeLay between now and the election. Of course an incumbent, especially DeLay, has a tremendous advantage, at least as long as he is not under indictment. But to say that Morrison isn't credible is either a) to ignore the campaign Morrison has put together, which is vastly better organized and funded than Riley's was, or b) to engage in the kind of posturing for which... oh, never mind.

You know, even if Morrison loses, he may come close enough to make DeLay appear weak. What would that do to the latter's "hammer" image? Expect DeLay's exit, if not this election, then in the next two or three. I'm sure the GOP won't tolerate weakness in that position.

Posted by: Steve Bates on August 16, 2004 1:40 AM