There was an interesting exchange last week as recovery efforts from the effects of Hurricane Harvey began in earnest.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for a special session to consider dipping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The title of the fund itself is not without some irony, considering that Harvey’s rain totals have now been officially deemed the largest in U.S. storm history.
It seems Houston has already seen damage from Harvey exceed its $100 million flood insurance limit, which left the city without flood insurance during hurricane season.
Turner was asking for an estimated $10 million from the state’s $10 billion savings account — the Rainy Day Fund — to extend the city’s flood insurance policy until April 1, 2018.
If Houston could not get the funds from the state, Turner wrote, it would force him to ask the city council to raise property taxes inside Houston taxing zones to bring in about $50 million to cover further restoration costs, not to mention having to dip into Houston’s own rainy-day fund to buffer against the cost of not having insurance.
Abbott’s response last week was that Turner had “all the money that he needs” for recovery efforts in Houston; incidentally, parts of which overlap Galveston County cities and business communities’ interests.
Abbott further said, reported by many news organizations, that Turner “seems to be using (Harvey recovery) as hostage to raise taxes.”
Then, on Friday, Abbott sat at a table with Turner in Houston.
Out of the governor’s disaster fund, which was approved by the Legislature in its latest session, there was $100 million. The governor approved $50 million of it, within a reasonable, immediate time frame, to go to Houston.
Then, Abbott and Turner talked about the future.
While the immediate talk should be on recovery, a looming question should be on prevention.
The governor and mayor talked about future preventive measures such as a third reservoir for floodwaters, which could cost up to $400 million, and expanding bayous, which could cost $311 million. The two said they have also discussed an Ike Dike — a protective seawall and floodgate system — along the coast, which Turner estimated to be an about $12 billion project.
We hold only a little hope, with the current political and social climates in Texas and the country, that Abbott’s and Turner’s discussion will lead to more meaningful discussions in the coming months.
But a little hope is better than no hope when it comes to the political landscape.
• Dave Mathews