We have repaired our homes, passed a local flood bond, and work has begun to bolster our bayous and gullies, but will it be enough to keep your floor from getting wet the next time it rains? It won’t. So much more needs to be done, and so many more partners and resources need to be brought to bear to protect the bread in the breadbasket of Texas from getting soggy again.
The 86th Texas Legislative session is underway, and the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce, through its Public Policy Council, has diligently prepared its legislative agenda in anticipation of this session. Among other legislative priorities, such as public school finance reform, reauthorization of state economic development incentives, and greater MUD transparency, is the call for state funding for flood mitigation projects through the release of surplus monies in the State Rainy Day Fund. The term “Rainy Day” fund is not intended to be literal, but rather was established as a reserve account to protect the state government from the volatility of boom & bust economic cycles. Yet, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, application of the literal term seems apropos.
In August of 2018, Harris County residents passed a $2.5 billion bond initiative by an overwhelming 85%. However, it is recognized this is not nearly enough money to adequately fund additional flood mitigation infrastructure to protect Harris County residents from future rain events like Hurricane Harvey and the Tax Day Flood of 2016. From the beginning, the bond was recognized as a means to leverage additional funding from State and Federal government resources in addition to the direct funding of local projects.
The Texas Rainy Day Fund has a target fund balance of $10 billion dollars but has now exceeded that amount with many calling for a draw-down to be returned to the taxpayers in one form or another. Hurricane Harvey dramatically pointed out the inadequacies of our state flood mitigation infrastructure, and the risk flooding poses to the Houston economy and communities up and down the Texas coast. Many now recognize the need for all levels of government to direct funding toward enhanced resiliency. Harris County and Houston voters stepped up to the plate, and now it is time for the State to respond in-kind and it seems only logical the Rainy Day Fund to be the source by which the State can participate.
The Houston Northwest Chamber or Commerce is also putting its money where its mouth is by becoming a member of Harris Plus Flood Solutions (HPFS). Al Haines, a long-time resident of the Cypress Creek area and former City Administrator for the City of Houston represents the Chamber on HPFS. Al is a staunch advocate for improving Norwest Harris County’s flooding issues and is the perfect person to represent both our community and all others in the greater Houston area. HPFS is a legal entity committed to improving Harris County’s flood resiliency. HPFS led the campaign for passage of the Harris County Flood Control District Bond, and now it has turned its attention to the State.
HPFS has hired a prominent lobbyist at the state capital to advocate for the creation and passage of a bill which would appropriate $3.15 billion to be used toward flood mitigation & recovery, statewide. The proposal being brought forth by HPFS would create the following:
$1 billion for recovery. These monies would assist 55 counties impacted by Hurricane Harvey to meet federal grant match requirements, effectively bringing an additional $6 billion dollars of federal funding to assist with disaster recovery projects.
$2.15 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for flood mitigation projects. This one time allocation would be administered by the Texas Water Development Board to be used for shovel ready infrastructure projects to assist with future flood mitigation. These funds would also facilitate the draw down of additional federal funding.
The first round of meetings with key legislators generated a favorable response. However, a super majority will be required in the House and Senate in order to release money from the Rainy Day Fund. Therefore, a broad base of support from communities across Texas will be necessary to lobby their local legislators to support this bill. The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce will be actively campaigning at other Gulf Coast Chambers and beyond to drum up support for this legislation.