In his biennial ‘State of the State‘ speech today, Texas Governor Rick Perry called for spending billions to fund water projects and build and repair roads, advocating for taking $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund “for a one-time investment in infrastructure programs.”
Current proposals in the Texas House and Senate that appear to have growing support call for taking $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to start a water bank. That bank would offer low-interest loans and grants to prioritized projects in the State Water Plan, with 20 percent dedicated to funding water conservation projects.
It wasn’t clear from Perry’s speech how that $3.7 billion would be split between water and roads projects. (We’ve asked the Governor’s office to elaborate, and will update when they do.) Update: a spokesperson for the Governor’s office tells StateImpact Texas how that $3.7 billion would be divided is something “we will be working with the legislature on, to identify the best and most efficient ways to use that money.”
Texas’ roads are also suffering, some from congestion and others from a massive boom in drilling-related traffic thanks to the advent of the drilling techniques of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Perry said today that “none of us can deny the need for these improvements. Water and roads add to the quality of life for all Texans – anyone stuck in traffic at rush hour in our cities can speak to that.”
Perry had previously called for funding more water projects in the state in August 2010 despite a “high price tag,” but as PolitiFact Texas points out, he didn’t mention water at all in his 2011 State of the State address, and only a “driblet of plan-related funding passed into law.” They rated that a “Promise Broken.”
“Whenever we’re recruiting a business seeking to relocate or expand, a chief concern of theirs is ensuring there are adequate water, power and transportation systems for their needs,” Perry said.
Ken Kramer, Water Resources Chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, released a statement generally in favor of Perry’s plan, but said that “we need to be clear that assuring the water future of Texas requires not just funding for new infrastructure but also enhanced water conservation, more effective responses to drought conditions, and maintaining river flows and freshwater inflows to our coastal bays and estuaries.”
The proposals in the State House and Senate bring up the question — who gets money first? We asked Representative Lyle Larson about that earlier this week at a panel on how the legislature can address water issues in the state.
“I think, ultimately, how many of them are shovel-ready?” Larson said. “How many of them already have their engineering already done? And how many can we get out? I mean, the impetus for the state to be involved is to drive these projects to start construction.”
And Larson warns that it won’t be as simple as a handout. He says if you’re going to ask for money, you’ll have to show that you value water as a resource.
“We want to make sure that hose areas that we’re going focus using this money are going to maximize their conservation efforts,” Larson said. “If they’re not, then why are we going to build something if those folks aren’t saving the water they have already?”