In Harvey's Wake

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HOUSTON — Gov. Greg Abbott presented Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner a $50 million check for Hurricane Harvey relief Friday, prompting Turner to rescind a proposed property tax hike for his city.

The money, which comes from the $100 million disaster relief fund appropriated to Abbott's office during the last legislative session, will go toward immediate relief needs such as reconstruction, Abbott and Turner said at a joint news conference in Houston. Abbott said long-term recovery and preventive measures would be funded by the federal government and the state's $10 billion savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, but not until exact costs for recovery are known.

"The time to use the thrust of the Rainy Day Fund is when the expenses are known," Abbott said. "So the members of the Legislature know how best to use the Rainy Day Fund."

Turner had planned to raise property taxes for one year in order to raise $50 million for hurricane recovery, which would have cost the average Houston homeowner $48. Though the plan drew criticism, Turner said at the time that he would not have proposed the tax increase had Abbott called a special legislative session to use the Rainy Day Fund immediately.

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The news conference appeared to resolve a weeklong spat between Abbott and Turner. In early September, Abbott said a special session of the Legislature wasn't necessary to deal with the response to Hurricane Harvey, but in a Monday interview with The Texas Tribune, Turner said the lack of immediate state funding for relief efforts was forcing him to push for the tax hike. Abbott responded in a Tuesday news conference, saying Houston already had enough funds for hurricane relief and that if the state were to use Rainy Day money, it would come during the next regular legislative session in 2019.

During the Friday news conference, Abbott said there "is a possibility for a special session" to allocate funds for recovery and prevention once those costs are better known.

"Now that the hurricane winds are calm ... it's time that we begin the process of rebuilding Texas, and that's a tall task," Abbott said. "This is what the state of Texas is for ... We're proud to be here wearing the same jersey working for the same team."

Still, Abbott said the $10 billion Rainy Day Fund would only be able to cover a “fraction of the costs” of longer term recovery and prevention. Turner added that he and Abbott have discussed future preventative measures such as a third reservoir for flood waters, which could cost up to $400 million, and expanding bayous, which could cost $311 million. The two said they have also discussed a "coastal spine" — a protective seawall and floodgate system — along the coast, which Turner estimated to be a roughly $12 billion project.

“We can’t ask people to build in the same place unless we are taking the steps to mitigate the risk of flooding down the road,” Turner said.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Sylvester Turner told The Texas Tribune that fewer houses would have been damaged if federal officials had funded much-needed flood control projects. But he lauded how residents have risen to the challenge of recovering after Hurricane Harvey. [Full story]

  • The governor said if the state needs to tap the Rainy Day Fund for Harvey recovery, it won't be until the next legislative session in 2019. [Full story]

  • While several Texas officials have thrown support behind some expensive flood control projects, a Houston City Council meeting highlighted the political and financial hurdles that may await such efforts. [Full story]

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