Texas must use Rainy Day Fund for actual rainy days

David Howell

Gov. Rick Perry beseeched his fellow Texans to pray. It was 2011, and a cataclysmic drought was affecting the state. The one-time “Dancing with the Stars” contestant knew just what to do. He prayed, and he urged millions of Texans to pray with him. The Almighty must have been preoccupied at the time — he didn’t answer Texans’ prayers for six years. When God finally found the time to answer those millions of prayers, Texas experienced a deluge of biblical proportions: Hurricane Harvey.

Texas’ Rainy Day Fund, or the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund, is a state savings account. Although its main function is to serve as a financial fallback in times of want, it should be used to respond to disasters. During the drought of the early 2010s, Perry withdrew $2 billion from Texas’ Rainy Day Fund to bankroll water projects.

On Aug. 29, Cedar Bayou recorded 51.88 inches of rain. It was the rainiest day in the history of the continental United States. Perry used the Rainy Day Fund during Texas’ driest days. Abbott must do likewise after Texas’ rainiest. But he isn’t.

Not yet.

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner insisted that the state tap into the fund immediately. Else, Turner declared, he’d have no choice but to introduce a one-year $50 million tax, which would inevitably fall on many of Harvey’s victims. On average, taxes would be increased by $48 per household — households that still bear the scars of the hurricane. To avert this, the state must act without delay. 

It’s procrastinating.

The Texas Constitution stipulates that the state cannot withdraw Rainy Day funds without the support of two-thirds of the Texas Legislature. Although the Legislature does not meet until 2019, Abbott has the power to call a special session of the Legislature. Alas, Abbott has stated that he will not do so. 

But, there is a way around those pesky, bureaucratic rules: the bureaucracy. 

According to the Texas Tribune, the state’s Legislative Budget Board can reallocate money “from state agencies to relief efforts” and “replace that money with funds from the rainy day fund when lawmakers return in January 2019.” 

The state could spare the people of Houston with ease. It should. The legislative board must reallocate funds to the people of Houston. Let the state reimburse the agencies later. Its failure to make immediate use of the Rainy Day Fund in the aftermath of its rainiest day is tragically misguided. 

The largest city in Texas is still reeling — it needs the state’s assistance. Its mayor still needs support. So support him. Its people still need help. So help them. Its government still needs funds. So fund it. You — yes you, bureaucrats and legislators — used Texas’ Rainy Day Fund during a drought. Surely you must use it after a rainy day. 

Howell is a history sophomore from Dallas. Follow him on Twitter @david_howell_iv.