Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rainy Days and droughts

The Texas Legislature may have overcome its resistance to use one to address the other. Not in the Biblical sense, thankfully...

The Texas House on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to create a revolving, low-interest loan program to help finance a new round of reservoirs, pipelines and other water-supply projects for the drought-stricken state.

Lawmakers approved House Bill 4 on a 146-2 vote, but left the question of how much seed money to provide the program for another day.

State Rep. Allan Ritter, a Nederland Republican who filed the bill, said a $2 billion capitalization could finance the state's entire longrange water plan, which identifies 562 projects over the next half-century to satisfy the demands of a rapidly growing population.

The startup money would come from the state's unencumbered Rainy Day Fund under separate legislation filed by Ritter. His HB 11 is pending in a House subcommittee on budget transparency and reform.

So the bill to fund the projects' start-up costs need to be okayed. The opposition is small and loud and obnxious, and also consists of the usual suspects.

Other lawmakers have proposed starting the program with a smaller amount, while the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation and Empower Texans group have urged them to not tap the Rainy Day Fund, which could hold about $12 billion by the end of the 2014-2015 budget cycle.

"If water is important enough to fund, then we should do it out of the general fund," said Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, who unsuccessfully pushed an amendment to block the use of the fund for the loan program.

And then it's the Senate's turn.

The Senate, meanwhile, has not taken action during this session on a version of the bill by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. He also has proposed moving $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to help pay for water-related projects.

The state's water plan proposes construction of as many as 26 new reservoirs, as well as more desalination plants and pipelines and greater conservation, to meet the demands of a projected 46 million Texans in 2060.

If Texas does not develop new supplies, state officials say a repeat of the devastating 1950s drought, its worst dry spell on record, could cost businesses and workers $116 billion in lost income.

Bad jokes about praying for rain aside, this still seems like a bum way to run a railroad or a state government, doesn't it? Even 2 out of 150 House members who refuse to provide the down payment on the state's water needs is two too many. The Texas drought conditions are worsening even as this is posted. Try to imagine what things might be like five years from now, after a few more years of drought (and the refineries along the Ship Channel spewing out the toxins from the tar sands oil delivered to them via KXL).

As the Lege lumbers through the second half of the session, keep an eye on whether some grumbling bunch of conservative naysayers will have any luck curtailing or slow-walking the funding for this most critical of infrastructure requirements.

Update: Here's everything you need to know -- as of now -- about the drought in Texas. And here's more and more juicy details about the Republican infighting yesterday over the bill from the Texas Observer.

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