Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why is Texas creating something it already has?

Upon reading that They Mayors of Houston and Dallas came out in support for creating a $2 Billion fund to be dubbed the "State Water Infrastructure Fund for Texas" (SWIFT as in, how swiftly can we blow through $2 Billion one guesses) I first thought back to other State grant programs and how well they were working.

CPRIT?  Ummm...Errr
The Texas Enterprise Fund? Comparatively it's not THAT bad...
Texas Emerging Technology Fund? Eww, no maybe not.

The point it Texas Republicans suddenly have it in their minds that the local grant-based model of solving government's problems is the way to go.  That somehow creating a well-funded organization with limited oversight and lacking strong institutional controls (and with a fuzzy mission statement) is a good way to pay for basic infrastructure needs State wide.  That this has not materialized in other examples is a prime example of repeating the same actions but expecting differing results.  For those of you not paying attention that's the definition of insanity.

To me, SWIFT seems doubly insane because Texas is on the verge of creating a program that already exists.  At least, according to the Texas Water Development Board it exists, and they're estimating $53 Billion will be needed by State and local water boards between 2010 and 2060 to meet Texas additional water demands.  One assumes this doesn't include the cost of fixing leaky water systems, a problem that caused Houston to enact a drainage charge that's going to generate so much revenue for water projects (presumably) that it will soon dwarf the gross domestic product of North Dakota.

Which still leaves us with the problem of the existing Water Infrastructure Fund, created in 2001 by the 77th Lege.  Is the reporting incorrect? (not unheard of in Texas) Or have legislators just forgot that the thing is there in the first place? (Also, not unheard of)  Or are we creating another funding tier inside an outside shell?  (The TWIF-SWIFT if you will?)  It's all very confusing and, to be quite honest, very poorly reported and thought out.

Because of this I decided to go read the original bill and discovered that the "fund" they are talking about creating is indeed a sub-fund that is housed inside the Water Development Fund.  So this initial $2 Billion in 'seed money' will be used to supplement additional funds that are already in place. Except that, the monies in this fund will be administered by a board (which, not reported, has the authority to issue bonds for funding) whose primary job will be to redistribute the money into the already existing funds (their legislative authorizations altered to allow them to accept this money) to send money out for projects related to additional water facilities, education programs regarding water facilities, conservation and reuse initiatives.  In other words: Texas is creating an entirely new level of unelected bureaucrat inside the existing bureaucracy of the Texas Water Development Board.  This "new" group of unelected "experts" will be appointed by the Speaker of the House, the Lieutenant Governor and the Governor.

One of the biggest arguments that Democrats (especially Texas Democrats) use when describing the Republican Party is that for all of their wailing and complaining about fiscal discipline they don't really show much themselves when they decide to act. Of course, on the flip-side, the second biggest argument against that they make is that Republicans won't spend every dime on the table and then raise taxes more (on the rich or those evil, job-providing businesses) in order to spend even more so there's that to consider.  However, in this case the Democrats just may have found the one time of the day their stopped clock is bang-on.

This law, as currently written, is a waste of time, resources and, given past history, potentially taxpayer money. I've said all-along that I believe there are certain things that government at each level does well, and that they should focus on those things before contemplating all others.  At the local level, first responders and local infrastructure should be key.  I like the idea of rebuild Houston but I dislike how the City focused on it (sorta, there's still really no plan to spend the money) after worrying about trinkets such as sports stadiums and doggy parks. At the State level, anything involving intra-State transportation and commerce.  This includes roads and, yes, State water supplies. At the federal level national defense (both military and domestic) and providing us with a good laugh every time Rep. Jackson-Lee speaks is sufficient. If we can occasionally fret over the tipping of Guam by the US Navy that's a bonus.

The problem is, in Texas, we've gotten so adverse to having government do ANYTHING that we're becoming complacent with it doing nothing.  I'm not recommending that Texas go out and develop a Trillion dollar plan for water, but it sure seems like the fix for the problem requires more coordination than just a few people sitting in a room deciding what's best for all Texans doesn't it?  That's exactly what we're going to get however and, while on one hand criticizing the existing grant plans, the state's lockstep political media will be cheering this on madly, and won't even come close to realizing why that's so wrong.

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