Thursday, April 22, 2010

How's that workin' out for ya?

When KHOU's Mark Greenblatt first reported reported on the possibility that Metro had used outdated (and inflated) revenue projections in it's $900 Million funding request to the FTA in order to finance two of five light-rail lines I predicted the story was would generate buzz.

I was wrong, it generated a loud roar.

Response to the story was predictable, with Metro supporters immediately lashing out at the credibility of KHOU reporting followed up by Metro placing a video response on their home page all but accusing Greenblatt of lying. Metro's response was further parroted by Houston's former newspaper of record (and current largest political advocacy blog) in the form of a long-form blog post that chose to quote none of Metro's critics.

It was the typical give and take between the two extremes of the Houston transit debate that typically suck up most of the oxygen. We've seen this before. All that was left to occur were dueling op-eds in ChronBlog and this scandal would fade into the background as the next scandal du jour hit the news.

For a day or two, it seemed that Metro's attack the messenger/scorched earth method of damage control was going to work. They forgot one important detail: KHOU's Greenblatt is a Peabody Award-winning journalist with a history of getting things right.

Was he right this time? The FTA sure seems to think so.

(Feds scold Metro and take action to protect taxpayers on rail lines, Mark Greenblatt,
The Federal Transit Administration said it "won’t approve" federal funding right now on two light rail extensions proposed by Metro; until it can become confident the transit authority can afford to finish the jobs while still maintaining current service.

Ooops. To top it off, the FTA directly responded to KHOU regarding David Wolff's contention that Metro and the FTA had "developed the current revenue projections jointly"
The FTA does not develop sales tax projections. Rather, it reviews and analyzes the projections submitted by project sponsors. The FTA first signaled its concern with Houston’s aggressive tax revenue assumptions and insisted on revisions back in May of 2009.
It also seems, based again on FTA responses, that Metro only recently provided the organization with updated revenue projections, after failing to comply with several past requests.

None of this should be read to mean that Metro has lost $900 Billion dollars in Federal funding. The smart bet, given the attitude of the current Federal administration, would be that Metro will eventually receive the funding, or at least partial funding which will allow them to start construction on additional streetcar lines while they figure out what other "under-performing" bus routes they can eliminate or force-feed into the streetcar system.

Until that time, they might want to re-think their policies regarding responding to negative media. 'Cause it doesn't seem as if they're thinking these things all the way through.


Houston Strategies

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