By Ed Sterling
Member services director for the Texas Press Association.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Feb. 9 lauded Congress’ passage of budget legislation that contains nearly $90 billion in hurricane and wildfire disaster relief funding for Texas, Florida, California and Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Harvey pounded Texas from Aug. 25-31, resulting in disaster status for some 60 counties. The federal Office of Coastal Management has estimated the total cost of Harvey at $125 billion. Cost estimates by various other organizations have reached as high as $200 billion.
“Today’s passage of disaster funding marks another crucial step forward as Texans continue to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of Harvey, and I thank the Texas delegation and leaders in Congress for taking action to pass this critical recovery package,” Abbott said.
“The much-needed funding included in the bill for flood mitigation projects, housing and infrastructure repairs will provide a meaningful benefit to Texas. While Texans will continue to struggle in Harvey’s wake long after today’s vote, our resilient spirit remains strong, and we will continue working at the federal, state and local levels to ensure we emerge from this disaster stronger than ever,” Abbott added.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, commented, saying: “While long overdue, this bill is a big step forward for Texans impacted by Hurricane Harvey up and down our coast. We know the recovery process is far from over, but these resources will go a long way for Texas families, small businesses and communities who are still rebuilding. I will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Gov. Abbott and our congressional delegation to ensure Texans impacted by this once-in-a-lifetime storm aren’t left behind.”
Cornyn said the disaster relief part of the Bipartisan Budget Act:
— Ensures Texas will have increased access to Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds;
— Ensures that $15 billion of U.S. Army Corps funding will go directly toward construction in high-priority areas impacted by flooding;
— Provides flexibility to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow them to carry out necessary projects in Texas;
— Includes funding to help Texas address lingering transportation issues resulting from Hurricane Harvey;
— Allows the Federal Transit Administration to distribute formula money using 2000 Census data for areas that temporarily fell below a population of 50,000 as a result of a major disaster (this applies to Galveston); and
— Authorizes $10 million for the Ready Reserve Fleet port facility in Beaumont damaged by Hurricane Harvey.
On Feb. 8, Texas’ junior U.S. senator, Republican Ted Cruz, commented: “After much consideration, I will reluctantly vote for this legislation. This bill contains major victories; if hurricane relief and restoring vital defense spending were the only elements of this bill, I would be supporting it energetically and enthusiastically. Unfortunately, in addition to funding those critical priorities, this bill also unnecessarily balloons the deficit.”
Comptroller to send revenue
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Feb. 7 announced he would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $911.9 million in local sales tax allocations for the month of February.
The amount is 6.2 percent more than was distributed in February 2017. The allocations are based on sales made in December by businesses that report tax monthly; October, November and December sales by quarterly filers; and 2017 sales by businesses that report tax annually, Hegar said.
AG seeks election safeguards
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Feb. 5 sent a letter to state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Election Integrity, announcing a voter-fraud initiative.
The letter mentions the Office of the Attorney General’s “brief investigative survey” of four counties where “165 unlawfully registered non-citizens had been removed from the voter rolls after casting 100 illegal votes in Texas elections in the last two years.”
And, after stating that the Office of the Attorney General “is unable to determine the scope of non-citizens voting across Texas,” Paxton refers to “the lack of safeguards in the voting system to detect ineligible voters.” He suggests additional measures to address mail-in ballot fraud and the use of public funds for political activity.
Accreditations are released
The Texas Education Agency on Feb. 9 released accreditation statuses for school districts and charter schools across the state.
These statuses are based on state academic accountability ratings, the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas, data reporting, special program effectiveness and compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements.
Statuses for the 2017-2018 school year for 1,201 Texas school districts and charter schools are as follows: Accredited (1,185); Accredited-Warned (9); Accredited-Probation (2); Not Accredited-Revoked (4); and Pending (1).