We Texans consider ourselves fiercely independent, capable of going it alone, no matter what the calamity or challenge. Now amidst complicated and expensive efforts to restore the storm-battered Texas coast, the gauntlet is being thrown down by the Trump administration — and it’s not going well. It does beg the question: What’s the correct course for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas congressional delegation?
Yes, Texas congressional Republicans — 20 of whom along with Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn voted against the 2013 Hurricane Sandy relief package after that storm devastated much of the Northeast — now face cries of hypocrisy, given they lately have pressed for more and more in the way of federal relief themselves. But the pushback isn’t coming from demonized Democrats who, after all, have been rendered fairly irrelevant to the running of government these days but rather from their own Republican-run White House.
With coastal officials saying that federal authorities including the Federal Emergency Management Agency are badly failing storm victims in such critical areas as short-term housing, Gov. Abbott is labeling the White House’s latest disaster aid request “completely inadequate” for the state’s needs in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. As Texas Tribune reports, the Trump administration wasted no time in firing back. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested the state put its own dollars toward coastal recovery.
Sanders did so in stinging fashion, too: “Up until this point, Texas has not put any state dollars into this process. We feel strongly that [Texas leaders] should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process. We did a thorough assessment and that was completed and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today.”
As with so much from the Trump White House, that’s not true. The governor’s office says the state has already spent or incurred more than $1 billion in expenses related to Hurricane Harvey damage and recovery efforts. The disaster is enough that Abbott has even indicated interest in tapping the state’s $10 billion Rainy Day Fund, which conservatives normally protect as if it’s Fort Knox. That said, this obviously presents an awkward challenge for Texas lawmakers. They must ensure any federal relief requested can be vigorously defended as relevant to the very degree they demanded of Sandy relief four years ago.
Given that Republicans contemplate massive tax cuts at both state and federal levels and that one can expect this sort of tension between federal and state governments in the future, this is a good time for state legislators to look for ways they can better protect our coast. We can disagree about global warming, but the fact is water levels are rising and storms, when they occur, are more and more violent and costly. What can the state do on its own to protect homes and livelihoods? The time to seek answers is now with full debate during the 2019 legislative session if not before. Our governor has already made a good start.