State Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) today called for a Congressional investigation into that controversial Via Metro Transit downtown streetcar project, and urged Congress to block all federal funding for Via until the Legislature can make the Via Board elected by the people, rather than appointed by political leaders, 1200 WOAI news reports.
"As a large portion of the Via Metro Transit Authority's funding comes from federal grants, I urge you to investigate how federal funding is being used for this project, and to determine what you can do to help achieve the goal of many San Antonians, and put a stop to this wasteful, taxpayer-subsidized project," Larson said in a letter to Sen. John Cornyn provided to 1200 WOAI news.
The Via board last month approved not only building the downtown streetcar, but approved the most expensive of all the many routes floated for the streetcar, a route which calls for spending $280 million, even though Via concedes it has only $210 million in funding for the project.
"The only way to ensure that an entity responsible for spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars is transparent and accountable is if it has an elected board," Larson wrote. "Can we count on you to audit federal funding for the Via Metro Transit Authority until the Texas Legislature has the opportunity to pass legislature allowing for the election of the MTA's board of members," Larson asked Cornyn.
He said the streetcar 'will certainly be a waste of taxpayer money.'
Larson pointed out the embarrassing situation where Via was forced to swap funding with the Texas Department of Transportation to avoid potential legal action, after Via insisted on using funding from the 2004 Advanced Transportation District, even though that sales tax increase was approved only after promising the voters that none of the money would go to 'light rail.'
After vainly attempting to argue that 'light rail' and 'streetcar' were two different things, Via finally decided to e3xchange ATD money with TxDOT in exchange for state funding to make the issue go away.
Larson says the issue should be taken to voters to 'cleanse the funding process of money swaps and the blatant disregard of past election results.'
The Via board of trustees is appointed by City Council, Bexar County Commissioners, and other groups, and is not elected by the public.
"We request that you ask the Department of Justice to investigate the complete disregard of the vote of the people in 2000 on this issue," Larson said. "Attorney General Eric Holder has been hasty to protect people who have been disenfranchised by their government, and this is a perfect example of such disenfranchisement."