After days of sparring back and forth in the media, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner held a joint press conference on Friday to announce a $50 million check from the state’s disaster relief fund to the city to aid in recovery.
The amount delivered by the state was roughly the same amount that Turner was seeking from taxpayers through a property tax rate hike. He said he will no longer seek to increase the rate and called off future property tax hearings saying, “We will not exercise the emergency provision on the revenue cap, we will go back to where we were,” Turner continued, “the request I was making would have generated about $50 million, this obviates the need for that.”
During the meeting, Abbott applauded the Texas Congressional delegation for pushing through what he called a $15 billion “down payment” to begin the recovery process. He stressed that additional money from Congress, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the state, county, and city would be needed in the near future.
The $50 million check hand delivered by the governor is intended to cover short-term recovery costs, like debris removal, and he said the state will continue to help pay for costs as they arise, saying that there may be a need for a special session or a meeting of the legislative budget board to appropriate funds for intermediate needs.
When it comes to rebuilding, Abbot said prioritization would be placed on homes and infrastructure, specifically mentioning bridges, roads, schools and courthouses. The Small Business Association, Texas Workforce Commission, among others, would be called in to help where appropriate.
One area that will receive immediate funding because of the state funds is debris removal.
“Debris removal is a top priority, people have been very patient,” Turner said, adding that they have 450 trucks and loaders spread out around the city already doing cleanups. While FEMA is picking up a majority of the tab for debris, the city is still expected to kick in about $26 million which was one of the main reasons for seeking additional funding.
The state’s disaster relief fund had $100 million appropriated to it last legislative session and Abbott said that it was just one of many ways the state can assist. “Importantly Texas has and will continue to play a very profound role in this process,” he said.
Going forward, Turner pointed to long-term costs for projects to mitigate future disasters. Specifically, he mentioned building the coastal spine, expanding the bayous, and building a third reservoir. With the funds for those expected to be in the billions, they are hoping that the federal government steps in as it did in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina and the tri-state area following Hurricane Sandy.