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Land Commissioner George P. Bush walks back call for special session on Harvey relief

“I clearly misspoke,” Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said after calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to order a special legislative session to allocate funds for Hurricane Harvey relief.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush at the GOP state convention in Dallas, Texas, on May 12, 2016.

After musing publicly that Gov. Greg Abbott needs to call a special legislative session to provide more state money for Hurricane Harvey relief, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush walked the comment back on Monday.

“I clearly misspoke,” Bush said in an emailed statement. “I agree that calling a special session is not necessary. I will continue to work under Gov. Abbott’s leadership as we help Texans throughout the hurricane recovery process.”

Whether to call state lawmakers back for a special session is a politically sensitive subject for Abbott and other officials involved in rebuilding after Harvey. The question at hand is whether the governor should order lawmakers back to the Capitol to consider spending money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a roughly $10 billion pot of money available for budget emergencies.

Bush expressed support for the idea in a news story published Sunday by The Bryan-College Station Eagle.

"The Legislature needs to take a deep look at the Rainy Day Fund," Bush told the newspaper. "We need a special session, and the governor needs to call it."

A spokesman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment.

Bush is not the only public official to stir controversy over the Rainy Day Fund. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has also sparred with the governor over his reluctance to call lawmakers back to Austin to take a look at the emergency fund before the Legislature meets again next year.

“If Harvey doesn’t qualify for the Rainy Day Fund, then what does?” Turner said at a recent legislative committee hearing.

A spokesperson for Abbott told the Tribune last week that the state already has diverted money from several state agencies to address Harvey relief so it’s not yet necessary to tap into the Rainy Day Fund. The governor has previously said he would prefer to defer that conversation until the exact costs of recovery are known.

Bush called Harvey a "$120 billion storm" in Sunday's article in The Eagle.

The emergency fund, known officially as the Economic Stabilization Fund, was a source of controversy for budget writers in 2017. Despite initial criticism from fiscal hawks, lawmakers agreed to use about $1 billion from the fund to shore up revenue problems. After Harvey and with other bills coming due in state programs, many lawmakers expect to face an even tighter budget session in 2019.

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.

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