Charter Amendment Petition Aimed at Regional Transportation Funding Underway
A new group called the Houston-Galveston Area PAC has launched a petition effort focused on reforming the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), the region’s federally-chartered metropolitan planning organization.
The PAC, through their “Fair for Houston” initiative, has been collecting petition signatures for weeks but publicly launched their website and social media channels this week. They hope to collect enough petition signatures to force a ballot proposition this coming November.
The group is targeting H-GAC because of its role in distributing funding that flows from the state and federal government.
H-GAC’s board is made up of appointees from local jurisdictions of the 13 counties in the Houston region, the group’s service area. Participation is voluntary only requiring the jurisdiction to vote to approve membership and pay membership dues.
H-GAC drew attention last year when they approved a funding plan, against the protests of Houston and Harris County, that only allocated 2% of a $488 million flood funding disbursement. H-GAC also often serves as the deciding factor in the direction of federal infrastructure funding, like the North Houston Highway Improvement Project.
The PAC’s key issue is that Houston and Harris County’s population counts for more than 60% of the regional population share in the group, which determines the amount of funding that the federal government will allocate to it, but when it comes to voting on directing that funding, the two only make up 17% of the board’s voting share. According to the group, “Waller and Liberty Counties currently have a bigger say than Houston about what happens to Houston.”
Houston City Council recently renewed their membership and approved dues to the group, but not before the Mayor opened the door for possible pushback against H-GAC.
“On balance it seems as though Houston and Harris County are used to draw down the big dollars…but when it comes to H-GAC making the distribution, we’re having to fight hard to just get a much smaller proportional share,” he said, “at some point, I think Houston and Harris County will sit down together and decide what’s the best way to move forward…hopefully there will be some changes and if not, Harris County and Houston will have to decide what the next steps will be.”
If the PAC is successful, the decision will be made for city officials.
The group’s petition specifically states that the city can only maintain a membership in a MPO, or H-GAC, “if the votes on the governing board are apportioned proportionally on the basis of population,” if H-GAC doesn’t restructure, the petition states the city must withdraw its membership.
According to their website, the group has regular block walks scheduled to gather signatures as well as a “kickoff” event planned.
Ultimately, it will likely come down to the city’s willingness, or reluctance, to count petition signatures in a timely manner to determine if voters will cast a vote this November on the future of Houston’s membership in H-GAC.
Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and the Urban Reform Institute, both of which focus on researching and promoting free-market policies to foster upward mobility for those living in major metro areas. Blain has been published in the Wall Street Journal, City Journal, Forbes, the Houston Chronicle, the Hill, Wired, and HuffPost. He serves on the governing board of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and the boards of Texas Families First, Good Policy Society, and Entre Capital, a commercial lender for businesses started by ex-offenders. In September 2021, Blain was appointed to a four-year term to the Texas Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.