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So you want some flood bond project money?

Harris County plays a little hardball.

Harris County on Tuesday plans to restrict flood bond projects to municipalities that meet its floodplain development standards, effectively forcing the 34 cities within its borders to adopt stricter rules to access the $2.5 billion pot.

The policy change is meant to protect the county’s largest-ever investment in flood control infrastructure and create uniformity in building rules, following the principle that cities should not permit development than can worsen flooding for their neighbors.

“The goal isn’t to punish anybody,” County Engineer John Blount said. “It’s to announce, ‘Hey, these are the minimum standards we think you should enforce.’”

By the end of this year, cities must set minimum detention rules for new development, prohibit builders from filling in the 500-year floodplain and base standards on the newest rainfall rates, among other requirements.

Many, including the city of Houston, already have updated their rules. County floodplain experts are available to help the remaining cities do so, Blount said.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said forcing small cities to improve their standards helps them avoid conflict with developers who may oppose the changes. Harris County already haggled with the building community over upgrading its own rules last year.

“This gives them the opportunity to point to us and say, “Look, it’s the county that’s making us do this,’” Hidalgo said. “Hopefully, this will take some of the politics out of that.”

You can look at it that way, as Harris County helping the small cities help themselves by playing the heavy with the developers. You can also look at it as the county protecting its own legitimate interests by not wasting money on projects that will be undermined by lax standards, and you can look at it as the county using its financial might to enforce a rigid standards on smaller and more local government entities. It’s the local control fight in another context, and there’s more than one way to view it. I think the county is correct on the merits, and I’m not even sure there is a good counter-argument to their position in this case. But since local control and the heavy hand of the state government – quite a recent development there, as we know – is a regular topic here, I thought it was worth pondering this initiative from that angle.

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8 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I’m just curious about how this works. When Trump threatens states and municipalities with withholding federal dollars unless they bend the knee on Trump’s policies, it’s bad, right?

    Is it also bad when Lina led Harris County does the same thing, or is it different because Lina is a progressive?

  2. brad says:

    Bill,

    Try comparing apples to apples. Trump doesn’t have policies.

    Word soup tweets in the manner of a petulant temper tantrum about something that Trump wants for himself, not the country, does not count as policy.

  3. Joel says:

    Also, too, there is the matter of spheres of authority and existing law.

    When Trump threatens to withhold money that was appropriated by Congress, that is abuse of power and outside his constitutional sphere. When he does it to suppress state law and voter access, it is just a plain old felony.

    Whereas it appears that the county judge here is threatening to withhold money based on the precise authority granted her to enforce an agreement.

    Not that I would expect a ridiculous person like BD to understand these obvious and simple contextual “nuances.”

  4. mollusk says:

    Funds can be withheld if they have something to do with the policy that the gummint is “encouraging.” For example, if states didn’t raise the drinking age to 21 or lower the speed limit to 55 they faced the loss of Federal highway funds. More up to date, Texas is passing up billions and billions of dollars (with a B) because it won’t expand Medicaid eligibility.

  5. Wolfgang says:

    ON LOCAL CONTROL (CENTRALIZED VS. DECENTRALIZED GOVERNANCE)

    Bill Daniels: You have a point there, and I would agree that this matter of intergovernmental relations (the hierarchical dimension in particular) does not lend itself to either an ideologically consistent position (for partisans) or a principled one (generally). It’s not a left-right or conservatives vs. progressives divide either, just as the pandemic isn’t.

    Masses of water do what masses of water do: follow gravity and flow from high elevation to lower, not to mention the more complex matters of fluid dynamics and such … what do I know? That’s where the experts come in, but the experts can’t be the ones to make policy choices that invariably trade off various competing goals and involve competing values (such as fairness/equity) and competing material interests. Just as the coronavirus does not respect political and jurisdictional boundaries, neither does rain-event flow-off (unless channeled, contained, detained …. whatever human intervention may be undertaken to tame the forces of nature.)

    Compared to the US, the Europeans have one additional level of government (the EU as a supra-natural entity) and they call the general concept SUBSIDIARITY: the idea that each policy problem should be handled at the most suitable level of government, preferably at the lowest–most local–level. There is no easy answer, though. Much rather, you have to analyze each problem intelligently and consider means and ends, and such things as spillover effects, destructive competition (as we recently saw in the states’ bidding war for PPE etc), race to the bottom, etc. Generally, the governments at the higher levels also have much greater resources than the lower ones. You can see that right now with Italy, ravaged by the pandemic, clamoring for help from the EU, in effect from the net-contributors to the EU’s budget, the “frugal” ones. At least the concept of solidarity (we are all in this together and the strong must help the weak) has greater currency among the European elites.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    Brad,

    I respectfully disagree. Look at what Trump has already tried or pulled funding for, in policy disputes….sanctuary cities and police agencies unwilling to help ICE deport criminal illegal aliens. That’s a very cogent policy, and the withholding money from cities and departments that shield illegal alien criminals is a very direct tie in, just as the flood control district refusing to give money to cities that don’t try to mitigate flooding. Very easy to see the correlation argument for both.

  7. brad says:

    I just spewed out my coffee reading this last post…

    …Bill, did you mean to type the words ‘cogent’ and ‘Trump’ in the same paragraph?

  8. Jules says:

    brad, I think Bill meant to say YOU HATE KITTENS AND PUPPIES!!!!11!!