A new proposal regarding Metro’s general mobility fund referendum has materialized this week, days before the board is expected to finalize ballot language for the November election.
The general mobility fund, which has been in place since 1988, diverts a quarter of Metro’s sales tax back to its 16 member jurisdictions to use for road improvement projects as opposed to mass transit such as rail or bus lines. Per Metro's 2003 referendum, board members were required to call a new voter referendum on the issue no later than spring 2013.
On Aug. 3, Metro’s board of directors approved a proposal that called for an up-or-down vote regarding the continuation of the general mobility fund, but the terms called for a change in the way the money is distributed. Under the initial proposal, each of Metro’s member cities and Harris County would receive 25 percent of the sales tax revenue that Metro collects in their jurisdictions.
“That meant a number of the jurisdictions would have lost money, and the City of Houston would have gained substantially,” Metro CEO George Greanias said.
Harris County faced losing about $13 million annually under the initial proposal, while the City of Houston could have gained $30 million, he said.
The new proposal calls for leaving in place the current allocation process, which is based upon a series of formulas and contracts. For example, Harris County receives back 55 cents per dollar collected by Metro, and the City of Houston receives back 20 cents for each dollar collected.
The new proposal would also cap the allocations at 2014 levels until 2025, splitting up any future sales tax revenue growth.
“Of the penny Metro collects, it would continue to receive 75 cents,” Greanias said. “The other 25 percent would be capped at 2014 levels and the growth in that quarter of the sales tax would be split 50/50 between Metro and the other jurisdictions.”
Although the board adopted the initial proposal Aug. 3, the ballot language will not be approved until Aug. 17, which is why the new proposal could still be considered.
By 2014, projections show Harris County will have received more than $500 million from the fund, which has gone toward a handful of projects in northwest Harris County. Portions of the Spring Cypress Road expansion, the widening of Kluge Road and the ongoing Skinner Road construction have all been funded at least in part by general mobility money.