You'd think that once you ask your local voters to approve a tax specifically for transit, you owe it to the voters to spend the money on transit. Apparently that's not how it works in Houston, as Houston Tomorrow president David Crossley explains.
Metro receives local money from a 1-cent sales tax that was approved by voters when the agency was created in 1978. In 1987 then-Mayor Bob Lanier [of the City of Houston] began taking 25% of that money away from Metro annually to use as he saw fit. That included funding design work for the so-called “Grand Parkway,” which is now under intense construction in order to pull population away from the City of Houston and all the other towns and cities in the region.
I have some sympathy for these funding diversions. Sometimes voters haven't approved levies for what is really needed at the moment, and the only way to keep things going is through. Sometimes, too, these diversions really are "loans" that get paid back.
But when a diversion is used to fund a competing capital project, the obvious question is: "Why not ask the voters if they want to fund that project?" That, question, too, may have a valid answer, and I hope Houston readers will explain it in the comments.
UPDATE: A Houston reader offers a competing narrative.
I'll be doing a public lecture and discussion in Houston on May 14. See info under my photo –>