March 15, 2009
In 1997, Capital Metro was a disgrace to our community. Numerous actions were taken to address the corruption and bad management of the agency. But it’s time to take a fresh look at the needs of our community.
Among other things, the Board lost its balance of equitable representation when numerous jurisdictions pulled out some years ago. This should be addressed with flexibility to reflect and facilitate the regional focus our community so strongly wants from Capital Metro.
The participation of elected officials on the Board is still important and should be maintained. However, the community would benefit greatly from the active engagement of individuals with large-organization financial and management experience – experience that some elected officials could bring, but that can also be engaged through the appointment of community leaders.
Section 3 of SB 2015 reconstitutes the Capital Metro board, maintaining the current seven-member size, with an increase of two when 35 percent of the service population lives outside the principal city. Board members will serve three-year staggered terms.
CAMPO’s two current appointments would be required to have at least 10 years financial and management experience respectively. Additionally, CAMPO will appoint one elected official to the board. The City of Austin will directly appoint one board member and two others through joint appointments with Travis County and Williamson County respectively. The final appointment will be a joint appointment by the non-principal city jurisdictions.
Currently, any fare adjustments must be approved by a group of elected officials whose jurisdiction is served by Capital Metro, VIA and Corpus Christi RTA. When implemented last year by Capital Metro, it was a logistical challenge and frustrating exercise to bring together elected officials with busy schedules and who are not necessarily engaged regularly in regional transportation planning and financing discussions.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Planning Organization meets regularly, is also composed primarily of locally elected officials and primary responsibility is to plan for the regions transportation needs within the context of available funding.
Section 1 and 2 of SB 2015 remove Capital Metro from Section 451.061 of the Transportation code, the current section requiring Local Government Approval Committees, and gives that responsibility to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO).
CAMPO would have 60 days following action by the Capital Metro board to take action stopping a change to the fare.
In 1997, the legislature required Capital Metro to obtain voter approval for any activity related to passenger rail. As a former chair used to say, Capital Metro can move dead bodies, but not live ones.
Capital Metro is the only authority in the nation required to hold a referendum on rail activities even if they need no bonds or new taxes to build, operate or maintain a rail facility or service. This has created some interesting quandaries with the current line and peculiar scenarios for potential expansions. In addition, the last referendum cost upwards of $800,000.
Should another entity, say the City of Austin or the City of Round Rock, want to contract with Capital Metro to build, operate or maintain passenger rail service, this would also require a referendum for Capital Metro’s participation, even if it made money for Capital Metro.
Section 3 maintains voter input on any rail system Capital Metro might consider building with their revenue or if an increase in Capital Metro’s bonds or taxes must be increased to build, operate or maintain a passenger rail facility or service.
However, if another entity held a referendum to build a rail system, that would be considered sufficient voter approval for Capital Metro to participate, so long as Capital Metro did not need new bonds or an increase in the tax to fund their participation.
Additionally, if another entity choose to contract with Capital Metro to build, operate or maintain a passenger rail facility or service, a referendum would not be required.