The State Water Plan May Not Be Dead (The Unkillable Zombie of Legislation?)
Going into the 83rd state legislative session, it seemed as if the state water plan would swim on through the legislative plumbing faster than Nemo went down that sink drain and onward to freedom and hanging out with some tubular sea turtles in Finding Nemo.
Well, that's just not how things went down. The water bill itself got passed, but the bill that would provide the funding for it faltered in the state House as Tea Party Republicans -- who never want to pull anything from the Rainy Day Fund -- and the Democrats -- who would only pull from the fund for water if the fund was also drawn on to restore education budget cuts made in the last session -- got together against the bill and managed to kill it on a technicality.
If you're wondering why you should care about this at all, Houston may be doing a little better thanks to the recent downpours, but much of Texas is still in the grips of a drought that is in danger of literally sucking some of the water supplies dry. Meanwhile the state's population is predicted to just keep growing while our water supplies do just the opposite of that.
Imagine the worst hangover you've ever had and then imagine waking up the next morning and finding there wasn't any water to wash off that special bar/vomit smell or to gulp down some aspirin with and make your head stop clanging. That's why it matters.
The funding bill was initially pronounced "dead as a doornail," but Gov. Rick Perry has made it abundantly clear that the water plan is a legislative priority for him, enough that he's said he'll call a special session if the legislators don't get it passed before the session ends.
Last Friday, legislators announced they'd worked out a deal that should (read: possibly-maybe-could if politics doesn't clog the pipes) get the water plan legislation through. The state water plan funding bill headed to the House floor again on Monday, thanks to Senate Joint Resolution 1, according to StateImpact Texas. Well, sort of.
The bill separates the actual funding of the project from the creation of two water fund accounts. If it passes, voters will then decide whether to approve the changes to the state constitution proposed in the bill come election time in November.
The actual $2 billion of cash money that would go inside these accounts will be looked at as part of House appropriations. (If these water banks were jelly doughnuts, they'd be jelly doughnuts minus the filling, if you want to think of legislation in terms of doughnuts. And who doesn't?)
So this bill is basically a filling-less doughnut, but the reworked bill may get through the House this way, since it gives the Republicans who were against it a way to avoid digging into the Rainy Day Fund if it turns out voters aren't on board for the whole thing. By making the funding a part of House appropriations, the Dems will also get a chance to keep on pushing for more education funding, and the chance to drop lots of pro-book-learnin' soundbites about how water is important, but so is school.
In the meantime, Perry released a disaster proclamation on the drought last Friday listing the counties affected by the drought -- looks like pretty much all of them, including Harris -- and renewed his emergency disaster proclamation first issued back in July 2011. Basically, this is like the time your fifth-grade teacher saw that the class was getting rowdy on the last day of school and made it very clear that school wouldn't be out of session until "every single math problem on those worksheets is completed" (True story -- we had to sit there for five extra minutes doing long division or something very mathy like that. Pure torture.)
By issuing the proclamation when the Lege is moving into the final week of the session -- it ends next Monday -- Perry seems to be making it crystal clear, political-speak-wise, that he'll keep the Lege after class if they don't get this done, and now he's setting the stage to make sure they know he ain't bluffing.
While all of this is going on in Austin, the state is still abnormally dry, even in Harris County, though the recent rains have pulled us out of the worst of it, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Record lows in reservoirs have been recorded in South Texas, West Texas and part of North Texas. Your grass may be looking greener, but that's not how things are for much of the rest of the state where things are a lot closer to standing in for the set of Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone's western that hinges on access to water (and for us the greatness that is Jason Robards as a good-hearted bandit and Henry Fonda as a bad-hearted bad guy.)
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