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Texas wants to spend up to $4 billion on storm preparedness. And that might be just the beginning.

by Resurgent Insider Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Texas has about a month to go in its every-other-year legislative session and one of the big issues on the docket is storm preparedness, namely trying to ensure that if another Hurricane Harvey hits, the state won’t take as much of a pounding as it did last time around.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, holds up a Texas flag after speaking with supporters outside Firehouse 5 in Corpus Christi, Texas, uesday, Aug. 29, 2017, , where he received a briefing on Harvey relief efforts. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, holds up a Texas flag after speaking with supporters outside Firehouse 5 in Corpus Christi, Texas, uesday, Aug. 29, 2017, , where he received a briefing on Harvey relief efforts. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As part of that debate, the Texas Senate is proposing appropriating $1.8 billionto storm preparedness measures like “harden[ing] public and private structures so they can better withstand future storms,” but also to funding “grants and low-interest loans… for projects that may not be eligible for federal funding” and “the so-called ‘local match’ [communities] must send to the federal government before it will release billions more dollars to repair storm-battered government facilities.” 

The Texas House meanwhile is proposing dropping $4 billionon these efforts. 

It seems both chambers want voters to ultimately have the say on whether the money is actually spent.

But just to be clear, whether it’s $1.8 billion or $4 billion, this is a lot of money, and some of it will inevitably be spent on local pork projects rather than actually making Texas more storm-resilient.

In addition, it may not be a full solution to the problem Texas is trying to fix– and that problem’s continued existence may end up costing Texas taxpayers more dearly in years to come, even if the Texas House’s big $4 billion price tag is what’s ultimately agreed upon.

One big issue: Texas doesn’t have a mandatory statewide building code; it leaves code up to local jurisdictions. This is very consistent with conservative principles, but it means that in some places, there is literally zero code, which does not ensure that structures are built to withstand storms– even those not as big as Harvey. For example, Nueces County, home to Corpus Christi, has no residential building code at all.

Another: Texas tends to have a very favorable attitude when it comes to landowners doing whatever the heck they want with their land.

Property rights reign strong in the Lone Star State, which is one of the reasons it’s always proved tricky for the federal government to try to build a border wall there. For it to work, they’d have to build inland from the border itself, which means using eminent domain to encroach on landowners’ property, which means massive lawsuits. This is perhaps the biggest reason why “The Wall” will never fully be built: It’s not blue California, where San Diegans have generally been favorable to fencing;it’s actually red Texas, where landowners don’t want a big federal structure diminishing the value and utility of their property.

A separate example can be found in Laredo, where there’s currently a proposal still being weighed to allow a toxic waste dump to be built in the middle of a floodplain because that’s what the property owner wants to do with his land.

This is all well and good, and a libertarian dream– except that all three of these instances underline that such a strong commitment to unencroachable property rights and such a vigorous “keep it local,” anti-regulation attitude seems to be resulting in some pretty big sums about to be appropriated to deal with results of what happens when you just leave it up to property owners: They build properties that are not as durable as they should be, they resist measures a lot of Americans and fellow Texans see as inherent to maintaining national security, and they try to do possibly unsound things with their land like install Mexican toxic waste dumps, all of which can easily wind up costing taxpayers more.

It’s antithetical for conservatives to argue for big regulation and willy-nilly use of eminent domain. But it’s not necessarily antithetical for conservatives to say that if Texas communities and individual property owners want access to troughs of cash to pay for recovery when bad stuff happens and the effects are predictably horrible, they need to take steps upfront to ensure that the damage won’t be so severe in the first place. That probably does mean establishing building codes or, where they exist, ensuring they’re not complete weak sauce. It also probably means Texas leaders stepping in, if needs be, to say building toxic waste dumps in floodplains– especially in the aftermath of Harvey– is a no-go.

The alternative is Texas being pressured to do these big appropriations, which will eventually embolden and strengthen those arguing for a progressive income tax system, and move Texas policy much further to the left– where it may be going anyway, thanks to demographic changes and Democrats spending lots of money to try to turn the state purple. Check out thisfrom Axios today if you’re not sure about the demography point.

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