Last week, I reviewed Texas Senate Bill 7 (SB7) which creates a Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund. The fund, if approved, will help local governments by providing grants and low- and no-interest loans for flood mitigation projects in four major categories. Categories include Floodplain Management, Hurricane Harvey, Floodplain Implementation and Federal Matching accounts. A competing bills has emerged in the House called HB13.
The Senate specified funding for SB7 in SB500, an omnibus appropriations bill. SB500 appropriated $1.65 billion for SB7 from the Economic Stabilization (Rainy Day) Fund. See Section 29a on page 12.
However, when SB500 moved to the House, the House Appropriations committee voted to remove the funding for SB7. The committee report states, “The substitute does not include an appropriation to the comptroller for the Texas infrastructure resiliency fund or certain other provisions relating to that fund.” See the second to the last paragraph on page 9.
Meanwhile, State Representative Dade Phelan from Orange, Tx. filed House Bill 13 (HB13). SB7 and HB13 do many of the same things, but have some important differences. HB13 would provide $3.26 billion out of the economic stabilization fund.
SB7 creates something called the “Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund”; HB13 sets up a “Flood Infrastructure Fund.”
Important Similarities Between SB7 and HB13
Both SB7 and HB13:
- Relate to flood planning, mitigation, and infrastructure projects
- Could make loans at or below market rates
- Could make grants to cities and counties to provide matching funds that make them eligible to participate in a federal program for a flood project
- Provide seed money to help attract federal grants
- Would likely accelerate flood mitigation.
- The Texas Water Development Board would control grants and loans made under HB13, but SB7 would create a separate board to control and distribute funds.
- Compared to SB7, HB13 takes twice as much from the Rainy Day Fund.
- Principal and interest payments on loans made under HB13 could be deferred for not more than 10 years or until construction of the flood project is completed, whichever is earlier.
- HB13 would give special consideration to cities and counties whose median household income falls more than 15% below the state median.
- HB13 encourages regional solutions by requiring cities and counties to demonstrate that they have acted cooperatively with other cities and counties. In other words, they don’t want people passing problems downstream. For instance, adding additional gates to the Lake Houston Dam might flood properties downstream. If so, HB13 could require buying out properties below the dam to avoid flooding them before adding gates to the dam (something that is already happening).
- How does HB13 encourage cooperation? By requiring that all political subdivisions substantially affected by any given flood mitigation project: 1) participate in the process of developing the proposed flood project; 2) hold public meetings on proposed flood projects; and 3) compare their impacts versus other potential flood projects for the same area.
HB13 also requires the state to prepare:
- A statewide flood plan that must be updated every five years
- A 10-year dam and maintenance plan.
What Happens Next?
The full House has not yet voted on HB13. Consideration of SB7 will likely be delayed in the House until HB13 is voted up or down by the House. In the meantime, the House deferred any action on funding for SB7 by taking it out of SB500. It could always be handled separately at a later date in a supplementary appropriations bill.
If the House votes FOR HB13, we will then have two partially approved bills that do substantially the same thing. They would go to a conference committee to forge a compromise bill.
A conference committee consists of 10 people. The leader of each house appoints five. They work with each other to incorporate the best aspects of each bill. When a bill comes out of conference committee, it goes back to the House and Senate for straight up or down votes. Rules do NOT allow any amendments to bills that come out of conference committees.
With the amount of dollars at stake, not to mention the number of flood mitigation projects that depend on those dollars, everyone should closely watch the progress of these bills.
One Concern About HB13
After pondering each of these bills, I have one concern about HB13: the requirement to gain cooperation from all affected parties. In principle, it sounds good. In action, it could delay mitigation projects for years. It assumes political willpower and financial capabilities among multiple jurisdictions that may not exist. Mitigation for tens of thousands of people could be held up by a handful of folks that refuse to cooperate. There needs to be some way to arbitrate in such cases.
For instance, the San Jacinto River touches multiple cities and counties, has two major lakes, and is governed by the San Jacinto River Authority and the Coastal Water Authority. Lining up all those dominos every time someone somewhere wants to improve drainage may represent an impossible hurdle to clear.
The good news: the best minds in the state are all focused on ways to speed up and fund flood mitigation projects. A good compromise will likely emerge
I will continue to follow both of these bills as they work their ways through the House and Senate.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/27/19
575 Days since Hurricane Harvey