Senate finally releases aid for Harvey victims
It came 19 months after the disaster, but at long last the Texas Senate has approved some significant state funds for the victims of Tropical Storm Harvey. The House of Representatives should support this move so that the money can be released as soon as possible, maybe even this summer.
The Senate appropriated $3 billion for Harvey reconstruction as part of a larger $6 billion supplemental budget bill. Almost a third of the Harvey funds — $900 million — will go to school districts that were hit hard by the disaster.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously, with 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. All of the Republicans are conservative, given the current nature of Texas politics, and they deserve credit for ignoring criticism from hard-right groups that they are being irresponsible with tax dollars. Michael Quinn Sullivan, head of the influential group Empower Texans, even accused the Senate of going on a “spending spree.”
That’s something you can say from the outside, especially when you rely on talking points that sound good in fund-raising letters, but the view is different from inside the Legislature. Lawmakers see the real need from disasters like Harvey and realize they have to so something to help these affected areas.
“I’m hearing outside people say we’re spending too much money,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood. “This is a very responsible budget from what I’m looking at.”
Another point worth noting is that the Legislature is finally planning to tap into the so-called Rainy Day Fund, which currently has more than $12 billion. The state needs to have some money set aside for emergencies, and disasters like Harvey should qualify. The Senate bill would take $4 billion from the fund, though it would build up again over the next two-year budget cycle with revenues from oil and gas taxes. That industry is thriving in Texas and should churn out lots of revenue before the Legislature meets again in regular session, in 2021.
The ideal size of the Rainy Day Fund is a legitimate point of debate for lawmakers, but something around $10 billion seems reasonable. A smaller amount might be insufficient in a real emergency, but it shouldn’t grow too large while real needs are unmet.
The Senate bill appears to find a good balance, and we hope the House has similar views. If both chambers agree, the budget bill must still be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. Whatever the final decision looks like, it must contain significant aid for Harvey victims — and not just in Houston but here, too. State and federal aid will never completely cover the damage from Harvey, but more of it will help people and businesses start paying taxes again instead of receiving them.