Senate leaders warned Tuesday that Hurricane Harvey could put a billion-dollar hole in Texas’ budget, an ever-growing number that could affect how much money is available for other state programs.
Only $20 million remains in the state disaster-assistance fund, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson said at a public hearing Tuesday on the status of hurricane recovery efforts.
“Our state costs are escalating,” said Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “We need to be judicious. … If we, God forbid, had another disaster in the next 18 months, where would we get the money?”
The Legislature will not convene in a regular session until January 2019.
The state has spent more than $1.7 billion so far in state funds, along with billions in federal assistance, according to updated numbers provided to the committee on Tuesday. Legislative Budget Board officials said as much as $2 billion in additional state funds may be needed in 2019 to cover hurricane-related school costs.
[Land Commissioner George P.] Bush said that $1 billion in immediate state funding would allow temporary housing assistance to be speeded up. Those funds could be fully reimbursed later by the federal government, he said.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, suggested those funds could be borrowed quickly from the state’s Rainy Day Fund – a savings account – to expedite the housing recovery for thousands of Texans, some of whom are living in tents.
“We’d need to have a special session” to approve that borrowing, West said, drawing silence from other committee members.
Yes, that is what the Rainy Day fund is for. Not specifically for disaster recovery – that was the bogus justification invented by Rick Perry in 2011 as an excuse for not alleviating cuts to the public education budget – but to help cover budget shortfalls in bad times. The choice is pretty simple, either we draw money from the Rainy Day fund to help the thousands of people who remain displaced by Harvey, or we decide they’re not worth our time and compassion. No wonder Sen. West got no response when he brought it up.