EDITORIAL: Bailed out

Two constitutional proposals would help flood-prone areas

Two of the 10 proposed state constitutional amendments would help flood-prone areas such as the Rio Grande Valley mitigate and address damaged caused by flooding and other natural disasters.

Voters should support both of them.

Proposition 3 would allow the state legislature to provide for temporary property tax exemptions on property that has been damaged by floods or other disaster.

Proposition 8 would enable the legislature to create a special flood infrastructure fund to help finance drainage, levees and other flood control and mitigation projects.

The flood fund would divert money from the general fund to help communities establish and improve flood control. This special account means the money is specifically for that purpose, and the communities don’t have to fight for money that could be, or already has been, allocated for other purposes.

Valley cities and counties could seek to tap into the fund to help repair and strengthen levees, deepen drainage and irrigation canals and dredge resacas so that they can accept more runoff during heavy storms. The need to elevate and crown roads might enable officials to seek flood funds to help with other, more generalized infrastructure projects.

Prop. 3 would offer some financial relief to home and business owners whose property was damaged by some type of disaster, such as a flood or hurricane. Damages from earthquakes or even an industrial explosion might also bring relief.

The tax break would be temporary and apply to property in an area where the governor has declared a disaster. Currently, a property owner’s only way to address such losses would be to ask the county to reappraise the property and accept the tax on the reduced value that results from damage caused by the disaster.

Other property tax exemptions, both permanent and temporary, already exist; this would merely add a disaster exemption to the current list.

The exemption would reduce revenue to cities, school districts and other entities that rely on it, but the need for personal relief is more immediate, and access to funding to make repairs often is more difficult.

The relief that Texans would receive through adoption of these two amendments would be in addition to federal funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that also is allocated for disaster relief.

We’re under no illusions that these two proposals target the Valley; they primarily are meant to help the people of Houston, which has been devastated by massive flooding twice in recent years. Flooding in our region actually has occurred more frequently, and efforts to improve flood control is constant. We trust that we never face a weather event that is so widespread that Houston and the Valley must compete for relief from the effects of the same event. However, that possibility, especially the competition for flood prevention dollars, is one of the reasons Valley officials chose to combine three separate metropolitan planning organizations into a single regional body, so that its larger combined size would compare with the state’s larger metropolitan areas.

Disasters are hard to plan for, and often create financial difficulty for property owners. Any effort to reduce flooding, and provide financial relief when it happens, is welcome. Props. 3 and 8 can provide some of that help.