In My Opinion

"Yes" on the METRO referendum will expand bus system, continue road building and reduce debt

"Yes" on the METRO referendum will expand bus system, continue road building and reduce debt

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Columnist Dwight Jefferson says a "Yes" vote on the METRO referendum will enhance bus service, continue the road-building program and reduce the agency's debt.  Photo by Stun

Editor's note: We have asked representatives on both sides of important initatives to express their views. METRO board member Dwight Jefferson states his case on the use of tax dollars in the METRO General Mobility Program.

Some people say the METRO referendum is confusing. I don’t see that. I like to say that what the METRO referendum does is as simple at 1-2-3:

  1. Continue the road-building program
  2. Expand METRO's bus system
  3. Pay down METRO's short-term debt

Voters have the opportunity in this election to decide that they want to continue building roads and improving the bus system. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (or METRO) is asking people to vote "for" the referendum near the end of the ballot.

 A vote "for" the METRO proposition will put into place a fiscally responsible plan that balances our needs for vital road projects and safe, affordable and reliable transit. 

A vote "for" the METRO proposition will put into place a fiscally responsible plan that balances our needs for vital road projects and safe, affordable and reliable transit. This proposition will maintain funding for local streets and roads, expand bus service, reduce traffic congestion and keep our taxes low.

A vote "for" the METRO proposition means that METRO will continue to share its tax revenue with our local multi-cities and the county for street improvements and mobility projects. It will increase bus service so more people can use METRO. And it will protect tax dollars by paying down its debt.

Pay-as-you-go

METRO is getting its fiscal house in order by moving to a pay-as-you-go system for its General Mobility Program, eliminating company cars and other perks and winning awards for transparency and accountability. The METRO proposition is a fiscally responsible plan because it requires METRO to pay down debt and it will not increase our taxes.

METRO is constantly being called on to meet the demands of a diverse and growing region. This referendum balances our need for regional transit with the needs of multi cities, Houston and the county to fund street and road improvements.

The bus system is the backbone of the transit system.  These funds will be used to buy more buses, upgrade Park and Ride and Transit Center facilities and build more bus shelters.  

The actual ballot language is simple. Voters will be asked to vote "for" or "against": "The continued dedication of up to 25 percent of METRO's sales and use tax revenues for street improvements and related projects for the period October 1, 2014, through December 31, 2025, as authorized by law and with no increase in the current rate of METRO's sales and use tax."

Currently a portion of sales tax revenue goes to METRO to pay for bus, rail and other transit services. METRO shares 25 percent of this revenue with our local multi cities, Houston and the county to help pay for street improvements and other vital mobility projects. This General Mobility Program was established to enhance regional mobility and ease traffic congestion. That sharing arrangement expires in 2014.

If the METRO Proposition passes, Metro will continue to share tax revenue with the local multi cities Houston and the county to pay for vital road projects. METRO will also receive additional funds to spend on our transit. The bus system is the backbone of the transit system.  These funds will be used to buy more buses, upgrade Park and Ride and Transit Center facilities and build more bus shelters.

With these additional funds, METRO will also pay down its debt — almost $190 million in short-term debt. To continue expanding the community’s vital transit system, and before starting any new major capital program, METRO needs to eliminate that short-term debt. This gives the agency more options for future transit solutions, since federal funding cannot be relied on.

The proposition will put METRO in a stronger financial position to meet future transit needs, including rail. 

If the proposition fails, the tax revenue would all go to METRO and the cities and county will lose that money to pay for roads, bridges, sidewalks, lighting, bike lanes and more.  The City of Houston would lose up to $100 million.

METRO will complete the three rail lines currently halfway through construction—they are halfway to the finish line now. Under this plan, new money going to METRO must be used to expand and improve bus service and pay down its debt. The proposition will put METRO in a stronger financial position to meet future transit needs, including rail.

Early voting is underway and continues through Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6. I urge voters to go to the end of the ballot where the propositions are located to vote "for" the METRO referendum.  Even if you vote a straight party ticket, you still need to go to the end for the referendum and other propositions.

A "for" vote is good for METRO because it strikes the best balance between our need for first-class, affordable transit and our need to repair and improve our local roads. Voting "for" the METRO referendum is as easy as 1-2-3. Money for roads, a better bus system and less debt — these are three steps we can take together to help solve the transit needs of our region.

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For an opposing view, read this opinion piece by Houston Tomorrow's David Crossley.

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