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Hurricane Gustav

Hurricane relief spending

So as noted, hurricane relief has been designated as emergency items by Governor Perry for the Legislature. They will have their work cut out for them.

Ike and two other hurricanes — Dolly and Gustav — struck Texas last year and took a $1.7 billion chunk out of the current state budget, legislative analysts told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

The news may force lawmakers to tighten spending even further for the 2010-11 budget cycle or dig deeper into the state’s rainy day savings account.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see how this is even remotely a difficult choice. We have over $9 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. Hurricane damage would seem to me to be the epitome of that fund’s purpose – you can’t get much rainier than a hurricane, after all. Especially in tough times, when across the board cutbacks are already being proposed, why wouldn’t you use the Rainy Day Fund for hurricane relief? I really can’t think of a good reason.

Complicating the picture is the uncertainty over the state’s continuing effort to persuade the federal government to pick up much of the hurricane tab.

Most of the state’s storm-related costs, $1.6 billion, were blamed on Ike. They include damages to buildings and other facilities, overtime and travel expenses for state troopers and other emergency workers, evacuation costs and emergency supplies.

[…]

Much of the money could be reimbursed by the federal government, but state officials remain in a protracted dispute with Washington over how much the Federal Emergency Management Agency should pay.

Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger blamed the dispute with FEMA for Texas’ failure to pay $134 million still owed bus companies and other vendors who helped the state during the Ike emergency.

Following questions raised by Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, she said the bills will be paid.

“Is the credit bureau calling us?” Ogden asked “We are not broke. Why aren’t we paying these bills?”

The potential federal reimbursement to state government for hurricane-related expenses could be as much as $1 billion, the Legislative Budget Board estimated.

I don’t even know what to say about this. The amount in dispute is, relatively speaking, a pittance. An amount eight times as much hinges on it. What the hell are we doing?