The Legislature on Wednesday approved a bill that marks its largest response yet to Hurricane Harvey, likely directing billions of dollars from Texas’ savings account to repairs and flood mitigation projects — steps lawmakers say will speed up recovery and prepare the state for its next major storm.
Senate Bill 7, an omnibus flood control package authored by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk after the upper chamber agreed to a series of House tweaks.
Local leaders say the legislation includes crucial provisions that would allow them to move forward on federally funded Harvey repairs and projects, which come with a 10- to 25-percent local match the state may now agree to help cover. Without that support, Houston alone would be out more than $220 million.
Though a prior version of the bill would have appropriated more than $3 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, dubbed the “rainy day fund,” the version that advanced Wednesday did not include that phrasing. Lawmakers were still negotiating budget proposals that would decide how much money to draw from the state savings account.
The bill would form several funds of varying sizes, among them a pot of money to provide local agencies with low- or no-interest loans — or, in some areas, grants — to design and build flood mitigation projects, and another to cover the local match on federally funded flood-control projects.
The bill also creates a fund for Harvey recovery that would provide money to cities and counties to cover three-quarters of the local matching funds required for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to repair damaged buildings or parks, or when they pursue projects aimed at lessening the impact of future storms.
Mayor Sylvester Turner and other Gulf Coast officials have pressed lawmakers for months to tap the rainy day fund, arguing that providing state support for the local match ensures Texas gets a massive return on its investment.
For some FEMA-funded aspects of the recovery, such as repairing buildings and parks and replacing equipment, Texas governments will get $9 for every $1 spent. And, in that agency’s program for mitigation projects, Texas will get $7.50 in federal aid for every $2.50 spent.
The bill that advanced Wednesday would have the state provide three-quarters of the required local match for proposals such as digging a large detention basin at the defunct Inwood Forest Golf Course or buying out dozens of repeatedly flooded homes.
The requirement ensures that cities and counties “have skin in the game,” Creighton said on the Senate floor in March.
The bill also folds in language from state Rep. Dade Phelan’s House Bill 13 that would create a separate fund also devoted to flood projects. That fund would create incentives for cooperation among local governments by, for instance, only providing loans or grants if every subdivision affected by a proposed flood project played a role in developing it.
Creighton said in a statement Wednesday the bill would “set the state on a path to be more resilient and better prepared for future storms.”
“It is uncharacteristic for the legislature to take such bold, proactive actions, and I am honored by the faith our colleagues put in me and Rep. Phelan to get this done,” he said. “…Every stakeholder, local leader and Texas family who was impacted by the storm and provided input shares in this success.”