Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters’ worry about small cities being forgotten when post-Harvey disaster recovery money begins flowing into Texas may have been unfounded, but she was right in expressing them.
The worry was pretty simple. Although Dickinson, of which she has been mayor for 13 years, was devastated by Hurricane Harvey-induced flooding, she feared it might be forgotten because of the devastation that occurred just north along Interstate 45 in Houston.
She told members of the Texas House of Representatives Urban Affairs committee last week that small communities near Houston fear getting a “crumb, at best” of the billions of dollars in disaster recovery money to be allocated to the area.
“I’m worried the big dog at the table would get the attention and the majority of the funding,” Masters told The Daily News in a later interview.
The dog that worries Masters is, indeed, a big one. There are 2.3 million people in Houston’s city limits and another 2 million or so more in the nearby suburbs.
Damage estimates for those areas proved hard to find, but the damage was considerable — every city in Galveston County combined and then multiplied by five or 10, maybe.
Just as important is the political clout condensed in that area. Houston, obviously, is a major economic hub and population center. Many of the people mucking out houses up there are solidly middle-class types who vote in every election. No incumbent politician in either party, none with any sense, wants to leave them feeling slighted.
An example of that clout happened two weeks ago when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott delivered a $50 million check to the city after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had admonished the governor for not using the state’s $10 billion Rainy Day Fund to help Houston.
To stop the “Gov. won’t help Houston” narrative, Abbott dipped into a state fund that had been hermetically sealed and made sure nobody paying even passing attention missed that by holding a high-profile news conference. Billions of government dollars have changed hands before and since without a quarter of the fanfare.
Masters told the committee she feared her city would be shorted if recovery dollars sent to this part of Texas were funneled through the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which serves 13 counties and 107 cities in the Greater Houston area, including Galveston County.
Masters didn’t get a check after her comments last week, but Tuesday she got a visit from Abbott and an entourage including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Land Commissioner George P. Bush and a promise that Dickinson and the rest of the county would not be forgotten in favor of any bigger dogs.
Abbott said recovery money would be allocated based on where the need is the greatest.
“The bulk of my time is spent in the smaller cities,” Abbott said. “I’m going to work to help my constituents.”
“The state of Texas is going to be here by their side, working with them every step of the way,” Abbott said at the meeting, which included leaders from League City, Friendswood and Galveston County.
Masters said the meeting somewhat eased her fears.
“We had two historic events,” Masters said. “We had Harvey, and we had the governor in Dickinson, Texas. I don’t think they’re going to forget us.”
We hope Masters’ concern was unfounded, but she was right to have taken nothing for granted and to elbow up to the table.
• Michael A. Smith