Nearly two years after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas coast, the Texas House approved legislation Thursday that would pull more than $3 billion from the state's rainy day fund to help pay for flood control projects statewide.
The House version of Senate Bill 7 is one of three disaster relief bills Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared a top priority earlier in the legislative session. Sponsored by state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, it combines the Senate version with a House alternative, creating two funds that would provide grants and loans for flood control and mitigation projects.
The first is the Flood Infrastructure Fund, which would draw nearly $3.3 billion from the state's savings account, the Economic Stabilization Fund. The second is the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund, outlined in the Senate version authored by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. That fund would allow cities, counties and other political subdivisions to apply for grants and low- or zero-interest loans for specific projects through the Texas Water Development Board.
"It is a great product of two different ideas that I think will serve this state really well for the coming years," Phelan said Thursday.
(Update: The Senate unanimously concurred with House amendments to SB 7 on May 22 and unanimously approved House Joint Resolution 4, which would create the Flood Infrastructure Fund, sending both measures to Gov. Greg Abbott.)
The resiliency fund would comprise four accounts. The Hurricane Harvey Account would help draw down federal dollars for flood projects related to Hurricane Harvey. The Federal Matching Account would use state money to help local communities with the matching funds required for projects that are eligible for partial federal funding.
Another account would help finance projects included in the statewide flood plan, created under Senate Bill 8 by state Sen. Charles Perry, a Lubbock Republican. Similar to the water development board’s State Water Plan, the state flood plan would allow representatives from each of the state flood planning regions to craft a plan and submit it to the water development board for consideration. High priority projects would be considered first for funding, Perry's office told the Tribune in January.
SB 8 also received approval in the House on Thursday, with only a third reading — usually a formality — remaining.
"Today, the Texas House passed historic flood mitigation legislation that will benefit the state for generations," Creighton said in a statement after the House version passed. "Hurricane Harvey was the worst storm in U.S. history and exposed serious weaknesses in our infrastructure, and this bill is a strong step forward to ensuring a more resilient Texas."