Ab­bott gives $50M to Hous­ton

Money comes from gover­nor’s dis­as­ter fund, set­tles week­long spat

The Dallas Morning News - - State - Matthew Choi, Texas Tri­bune

HOUS­TON — Gov. Greg Ab­bott pre­sented Hous­ton Mayor Sylvester Turner a $50 mil­lion check for Hur­ri­cane Har­vey re­lief Fri­day, prompt­ing Turner to re­scind a pro­posed prop­erty tax hike for his city.

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.”

Turner had planned to raise prop­erty taxes for one year in or­der to raise $50 mil­lion for hur­ri­cane re­cov­ery, which would have cost the av­er­age Hous­ton home­owner $48. Though the plan drew crit­i­cism, Turner said at the time that he would not have pro­posed the tax in­crease had Ab­bott called a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion to use the Rainy Day Fund im­me­di­ately.

The news con­fer­ence ap­peared to re­solve a week­long spat be­tween Ab­bott and Turner. In early Septem­ber, Ab­bott said a spe­cial ses­sion of the Leg­is­la­ture wasn’t nec­es­sary to deal with the re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, but Turner said Mon­day that the lack of im­me­di­ate state fund­ing for re­lief ef­forts was forc­ing him to push for the tax hike. Ab­bott re­sponded in a Tues­day news con­fer­ence, say­ing Hous­ton al­ready had enough funds for hur­ri­cane re­lief and that if the state were to use Rainy Day money, it would come dur­ing the next reg­u­lar leg­isla­tive ses­sion in 2019.

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 pre­ven­tive 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.

“We can’t ask peo­ple to build in the same place un­less we are tak­ing the steps to mit­i­gate the risk of flood­ing down the road,” Turner said.

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