Congressman John Culberson didn't say much today when he released his response to Metro's response to a letter Culberson sent the Federal Transit Administration earlier this week, questioning Metro's ability to pay for a planned $1.5 billion University rail line. About the only thing Culberson accused Metro of today was political accusations and splitting hairs.
We expected more from Culberson, considering Metro pretty much calls him a liar, and because on first glance, Metro's response seems pretty heavy. From Metro's release:
What we're seeing now is a political instant replay of the misguided tactics used by Congress Member Culberson and his erstwhile mentor to thwart rail to the detriment of Houston and to send a billion dollars of federal money to some other U.S. city.
Metro then goes on to list three "intentional misstatements and inaccuracies" in Culberson's letter. One deals with the portion of the University line that cuts through Culberson's district, and in another, he mistakes the cost of the North and Southeast lines. Allegedly.
But Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Culberson, tells Hair Balls that Culberson stands by the letter. Culberson's cost figures, she says, come from a letter to the FTA that caused some dispute earlier this year.
"They say they have revised financial models, but we haven't seen them," Mitchell says. "If Metro would open the books, we would love to see them."
Culberson hasn't directly asked Metro to see any revised financial models, but Mitchell says that his letter, as well as the response posted today, was his way of urging Metro to make more financial information public.
We haven't heard back from Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts about the situation.
So, it remains a little fuzzy, the way things sometimes do with Metro. Such as, 'How will it pay for the University Line?' And even though Metro calls Culberson a liar, he brings up some important points.
For instance, the third error in Culberson's letter, according to Metro, deals with a requirement that Metro has to pay 25 percent of its sales tax revenues to its service areas. Culberson wrote that Metro is "counting on the elimination" of the requirement, and then will use that money to help pay for the new line.
Metro says that isn't true. An "absolute falsehood," in fact. "Metro's financial plan and cash flow analysis demonstrate continued funding of the General Mobility Program through 2014."
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However, after 2014, on the same cash-flow analysis, those payments are listed as zero. Nothing. So, it might not be totally out of line to suggest that Metro is, in fact, planning on eliminating that program.
Update: We received an e-mail from Margaret O'Brien-Molina, a spokeswoman for Metro, and and she tells us that, "Metro has the financial capacity to build the university line." She doesn't outline the specifics of that capacity. Furthermore, she says that Metro has not received a federal full funding agreement for the North and Southeast rail lines, and we've previously been told that will happen by the end of the year.
About Culberson's claim that Metro owes the City of Houston $110 million, O'Brien-Molina writes:
Representative Culberson submitted a copy of the City of Houston's billing report and not Metro's financial assumptions. Metro has never missed a payment to the city. Metro will pay these invoices in a timely manner when properly billed under the terms of the General Mobility contract agreement.