Was that so hard? I ask you.
Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday said he would withdraw a proposed property tax rate hike after Gov. Greg Abbott handed him a check for $50 million to help fund the city’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey.
The exchange came as the mayor and governor held a joint City Hall news conference, a sharp departure from the last several days when the pair had traded letters and criticism over each other’s Harvey response.
Turner had tried to pin his proposed tax hike on the state’s unwillingness to tap its $10 billion savings account, while state officials viewed the city as seeking a blank check rather than targeting specific emergency funds in the state budget.
Ultimately, Abbott said he would draw upon a disaster fund within the discretion of his office, producing the $50 million amount Turner had intended to collect from residents’ property taxes.
The money, which comes from the $100 million disaster relief fund appropriated to Abbott’s office during the last legislative session, will go toward immediate relief needs such as reconstruction, Abbott and Turner said at a joint news conference in Houston. Abbott said long-term recovery and preventive measures would be funded by the federal government and the state’s $10 billion savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, but not until exact costs for recovery are known.
“The time to use the thrust of the Rainy Day Fund is when the expenses are known,” Abbott said. “So the members of the Legislature know how best to use the Rainy Day Fund.”
During the Friday news conference, Abbott said there “is a possibility for a special session” to allocate funds for recovery and prevention once those costs are better known.
“Now that the hurricane winds are calm … it’s time that we begin the process of rebuilding Texas, and that’s a tall task,” Abbott said. “This is what the state of Texas is for … We’re proud to be here wearing the same jersey working for the same team.”
Still, Abbott said the $10 billion Rainy Day Fund would only be able to cover a “fraction of the costs” of longer term recovery and prevention. Turner added that he and Abbott have discussed future preventative measures such as a third reservoir for flood waters, which could cost up to $400 million, and expanding bayous, which could cost $311 million. The two said they have also discussed a “coastal spine” — a protective seawall and floodgate system — along the coast, which Turner estimated to be a roughly $12 billion project.
So the money ultimately came from a funding source Abbott controlled, not the Rainy Day Fund, though as noted there may be some use of that later on. I don’t care what the provenance of the money is, but I do wonder why this was handled so clumsily by Abbott. Was this always what he intended to do but just never could explain it lucidly, or was this where he ended up after realizing how ridiculous he looked? I have no idea. That said, one must give credit where it is due, so kudos to Abbott for eventually figuring this out and doing the right thing. Even bigger kudos to Mayor Turner for getting the job done. This is what we elected him for.