At a speech before the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce today, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst said lawmakers should look into using $1 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to finance water projects this upcoming legislative session. You can watch his remarks above, the funding for water projects starts at the 22 minute mark.
The Rainy Day Fund is a pot of money (currently sitting at about $8 Billion) collected primarily from oil and gas development taxes. It is designed to be very difficult for lawmakers to get their hands on, and is set aside by state law for use only in circumstances like an extreme budget shortfall, or to respond to a natural disaster.
Texas’ current political leadership was reluctant to tap into the fund even at the height of the recent nationwide recession.
It took the driest one-year period in Texas history to convince some in power that it’s time to tap the fund. Today, Dewhurst suggested that Texas’ looming water crisis meets the benchmark to open up the fund. He joins other voices at the state capitol who see funding for water projects as an crucial issue for Texas, but who are unable or unwilling to raise taxes or create other forms of revenue to do it.
Republican State Senator Glenn Hegar and Republican State Representative Allan Ritter both recently told StateImpact Texas that opening the fund was on the table in order to finance the Texas State Water Plan, a $53 billion list of projects developed by the Texas Water Development Board to ensure water security for the state.
“Invest [the funds] with an incentive. An incentive to not tell those local people what are the best projects for them, but to work in cooperation because they can also put dollars into the pot,” Hegar, who sits on the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee, told StateImpact Texas.
Dewhurst was a little more specific today, according to the Associated Press:
Dewhurst says Texas’ rising population will require new investments in water and roads. He wants lawmakers to consider establishing a new water infrastructure bank that would pay for environmental studies and planning of new reservoirs. He says the bank could be repaid through construction budgets.
You can watch Dewhurst’s remarks above.