On Friday, Governor Greg Abbott arrived in Houston to hand over what effectively amounts to a $50 million advance draw on state funds for Hurricane Harvey relief, killing Mayor Sylvester Turner’s plans to enact an “emergency” property tax increase (and likely saving the mayor from a huge political misstep).
Various conservative state leaders and Mayor Turner had traded barbs over the course of the last week, as those officials resisted Turner’s demands for a special session blank check and argued that funding needs should be documented; state leaders also had the audacity to suggest that some of Houston’s (opaque) TIRZ and Rebuild Houston funds should contribute something to the Harvey recovery and future mitigation efforts — not an unreasonable demand, unless you happen to occupy the mayor’s office (in which case, you don’t want press or others looking too closely for shenanigans in those funds, and usually the local press doesn’t). Ultimately, not one city official could or would name one specific Harvey-related request for funding that had been denied by state officials (other than the Special Session Blank Check request).
Some poorly informed people (including one hyperpartisan elected official and the Houston Chronicle‘s silly, even hysterical, editorial board) tried to score partisan and/or populist points over Governor Abbott’s refusal to call an immediate legislative special session (before needs have even been fully assessed) to throw money at the problem, even though the governor, lieutenant governor, and others have been clear that they expect to tap the Rainy Day fund, but have authority to shift and draw on funds now, without need of an immediate special session. Indeed, John Sharp made that point very clearly in a Texas Tribune interview (beginning around the 21:15 mark):
Sharp also makes clear that FEMA (and the state) will expect documentation for funding needs, which is hardly unreasonable. Sharp actually comes across very well in the Texas Tribune interview, offering praise for Harris County’s emergency management operations (second perhaps only to the Pentagon, in his words) and shooting down the Chron’s hysterical editorial with a one-word answer (around the 23:00 mark). The whole video is worth watching.
In time, we may well need a special session, both to address Harvey recovery as well as mitigation of future hurricanes (including flooding as well as surge protection), but it would be premature at this point, before the costs of Harvey have even been assessed. In the meantime, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s interim charges are a good start.