By: Joan Huffman
Almost two months have passed since the historic rains of Hurricane Harvey. And while the water has receded, frustrations are rising among homeowners in and around some areas of Texas.
Families whose homes flooded when the Army Corps of Engineers released water from the Barker and Addicks reservoirs virtually all say the same thing: They did not think they were at risk of flooding; and few question whether the Army Corps of Engineers did the right thing. But many are questioning whether the government will do right by their sacrifice.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that "private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation." The facts are not in dispute. The Army Corps willfully flooded the private property of a few to benefit the greater public. The only question is whether homeowners will have to extract "just compensation" through the judicial system or whether Congress saves homeowners years of emotional and financially expensive litigation to secure their just compensation.
I call upon our Houston congressional delegation and Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to immediately support legislation declaring the Army Corps' decision a "taking" under the Fifth Amendment and craft a just solution to this injustice.
Additionally, local taxing entities must recognize the burden faced by flooded property owners. It is unreasonable and unjust to expect property owners to pay taxes calculated on property values that are no longer accurate. Here again, property owners are protected under the law. Current law provides a mechanism for taxing entities to instruct appraisal boards to reassess property values. Local taxing entities can and should do right by Harvey victims by immediately reappraising property impacted by Harvey. Some taxing entities have already done so. I will work alongside local governments and schools by supporting the use of Texas' Rainy Day Fund to mitigate lost tax revenue resulting from reduced property values.
I commend our federal elected officials who have responded with much needed federal aid. We all appreciate and will hold them accountable to their commitment to fight for more. We must come up with better solutions at the local level to expedite the completion of federally funded projects while we wait for the federal government to act. A perfect example is Project Brays where the Texas Water Development Board, a state agency, just announced a $47 million interest-free loan to the City of Houston. The city will give the money to the Harris County Flood Control District to complete construction of bridges along Brays Bayou to mitigate flooding. When the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency, delivers funding, the money will be given back to the city to repay the loan. It may sound complicated but this is exactly the type of government cooperation and "outside the box" solutions we need. There are other projects demanding our immediate attention as well. We must fortify existing reservoirs and dams and start planning now for the construction of a third reservoir. In fact, there are many infrastructure projects throughout Texas that need to be addressed and we should consider all ideas to mitigate or prevent future disasters.
These are but a few things federal, state and local governments should do to respond to Harvey. But we must also plan for the next disaster with the benefit of knowing what we now know.
Texas is a state that has always risen to the challenge. We learn from experience. And we understand the difference between spending tax dollars for the sake of saying we did something versus wisely investing our resources to protect life and property. Few tolerate the former; Harvey proved we must do the latter.
It is time for us to tap that same spirit and invest state and federal dollars to save life and treasure before the unthinkable happens again.
Huffman, R-Houston, represents Senate District 17, which comprises Brazoria, Fort Bend and Harris counties.