Harris County has put 37 of 93 subdivision drainage projects associated with the $2.5 billion 2018 Flood Bond on hold.
- Lack of funding
- Shortfalls in expected partner contributions
- Constructibility of some projects
- Social-vulnerability scores within the County’s Equity Prioritization Framework.
Technically, the projects have not been “cancelled.” The county has just run out of money to do them. But it has set no deadline for revisiting the projects on hold; is diverting HCTRA backstop funding for other uses; has articulated no other plan for raising additional funds; and is submitting projects for HUD funding that weren’t in the flood bond.
Here’s the explanation for the motion approved by Commissioner’s court on 2/21/23.
Did Your Project Get the Funding Ax?
The following three tables show the projects put on hold. (Note: six are duplicated between tables 2 and 3.)
Commissioners court cut funding for projects in all three tables.
Impact of SVI Threshold on Disproportionate Budget Cuts
The deciding factor in many cases was the area’s social vulnerability index (SVI), which measures English language fluency plus minority and ethnic concentrations.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Ramsey argued to lower the SVI requirement for these projects to 50%. That would have met HUD requirements and also meant fewer budget cuts for Precinct 3.
But his Democratic colleagues proceeded to set the threshold at 75%, resulting in the lopsided cuts. The chart below shows how dramatically that affected Equity Prioritization Index rankings in the tables above.
Ramsey Looking for Other Sources of Funding
Ramsey has been beating the bushes to find more money. Recently he got a commitment from Texas General Land Office Commissioner Dawn Buckingham to ensure $825 million in HUD funds going to Harris County Flood Control would be distributed equally among all precincts.
That should help fund several Precinct 3 projects and perhaps free up money for some of the subdivision drainage projects put on hold.
Drowning in the Semantic Wilderness
Ironically, even as others throw roadblocks in the way of Precinct 3 projects, HCFCD insists no projects will be cancelled.
But according to this motion, they will be paused, put on hold, and have their funding cut.
Harris County Engineering, Flood Control, Daniel Ramos from the Office of Management and Budget and the Harris County Toll Road Authority all recommended the funding cuts on 2/21/23.
Their rationale: It will provide funding certainty for the highest ranked projects using the Equity Prioritization Index and free up the Toll Road Funds for other uses. The toll road funds were backstopping bond funds.
The county made these recommendations even as it was planning to spend HUD dollars on projects NOT in the flood bond.
Unfortunately, six years after Harvey, no large pots of money remain out there dedicated to the storm. Ramsey has his work cut out for him against 4-1 odds.
Is Race-Based Funding Even Constitutional?
To justify the unequal cuts, the other three commissioners and county judge relied on complicated race-based formulas that favor minorities. Then they justified the funding cuts with the usual misleading “worst first” mantra when they aren’t even measuring actual flood damage.
The recent Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action calls into question whether race-based funding is even constitutional.
I’m eager to hear from lawyers on the constitutionality of distributing billions of dollars on the basis of racial discriminators, such as SVI.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/11/23
2142 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.