Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday endorsed spending $3 billion from the state rainy day fund to pay for Hurricane Harvey related measures.
“We can never prevent 60 inches of rain falling,” Patrick said at a news conference, “but we can do everything we can to mitigate those issues in the future.”
The trio of Harvey-inspired Senate proposals filed Wednesday include spending $1.8 billion to improve training for emergency response directors and debris removal after a disaster; establishing a fund to finance flood-mitigation projects; creating a statewide flood plan to coordinate efforts; and adopting a dam maintenance plan.
Patrick also called for the state to spend another $1.2 billion in rainy day fund money to repay state agencies that racked up expenses in the wake of the hurricane and to pay school districts that lost property value as a result of the damage wrought by Harvey.
The rainy day fund was set up in the late 1980s as a management tool to smooth out a volatile source of revenue — oil- and gas-related tax collections.
GOP lawmakers in recent years had been reluctant to touch the fund, but it now tops $12 billion — and Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimates the fund will have a balance of $15.4 billion by August 2021.
The swelling of the account, coupled with a variety of needs, has prompted lawmakers to propose using the fund for several items, from subsidizing retired teachers’ health insurance to improving state hospital facilities.
Altogether, lawmakers have proposed at least $5 billion in expenditures from the fund, some of them overlapping.
Harvey, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near Port Aransas on Aug. 25, 2017, and caused widespread flooding in Southeast Texas.
More than 15,500 homes were destroyed, 780,000 Texans evacuated their homes, and thousands of business were damaged or destroyed.
The hurricane caused $125 billion in damage in Texas, more than any other natural disaster in U.S. history except Hurricane Katrina, according to a state report.
“To the victims of Hurricane Harvey: We heard you,” said Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of one of the newly-filed Senate measures. “In just a few days it crippled a goodly portion of Texas and in a short time it did great damage. It is going to take us a long time to recover, but we will recover.”
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