Politics

Governor Abbott Says No Second Special Session To Pay For Harvey Damage

The governor says he can use the state’s “rainy day fund” on his own authority. But the House’s top appropriator says he needs lawmakers’ approval.

Governor Greg Abbott says he won’t call the Legislature back for a second special session to help pay the costs of Tropical Storm Harvey. But a key Republican lawmaker says he’ll have to if he wants to tap the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as the “rainy day fund.”

Governor Abbott announced his decision in a press conference this afternoon. “We won’t need a special session for this,” Abbott said. “We have smartly provided a lot of resources at my disposal to be able to address the needs between now and the time the next session will begin [in 2019]. And we have smartly kept a lot of money in our rainy day fund that we will be able to tap into as needed going forward.”

That’s not what State Representative John Zerwas says. The House Appropriations Committee chairman says the governor has plenty of discretion to move around money currently in the budget. But the rainy day fund is another matter.

“In a nutshell,” Zerwas says, “what it would require for us to access the rainy day fund for the disaster issues and stuff that would require us to enter into a special session.”

According to the state constitution, appropriating money from the fund requires legislative approval. Zerwas says lawmakers would likely support such a move, “because even the people who seriously resisted using it for economic stabilization, which is what the fund ultimately was developed for, their argument has been, ‘What if we had that horrible natural disaster or otherwise that requires us to have a fair amount of money on hand to handle it?’ Well, that’s exactly the circumstance we’re in today.”

State Senator Paul Bettencourt, who chairs the Republican caucus in the upper chamber, agrees. “A flood of this magnitude is an enormous economic hit to the state,” Bettencourt says, “and it’s what the fund was designed to [be] used for.”

The rainy day fund contains roughly $10 billion. Early estimates of the damage from Harvey run to well over $100 billion. Bettencourt, who previously served as Harris County tax assessor-collector, says it could top $200 billion.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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