Abby Rapoport, the Texas Monthly intern for the session, filed this report on Monday’s hearing of the select committee on the stimulus:
Dunnam’s select committee on the stimulus package convened for the first time. It was clearly the place to be, since many legislators milled in and out. In addition to the committee members (all arrived except Coleman, Pitts, and Truitt) Veasey, Raymond, Aycock, Anderson, Eddie Rodriguez, Phil King, and Ellis from the Senate all came by–and most of them actively participated.
Dunnam made clear that as the state waits for the federal government to clarify the rules around the stimulus package, the committee’s goal would be to maximize funds to Texas. This theme was stark as the committee heard testimony from Michael Gerber, of the Texas Department on Housing and Community Affairs. As Gerber explained the department’s focus on homelessness prevention and weatherization, the challenges of using these funds became clear. The increases in funding present a clear question of whether Department will actually be able to actually use all the money. Homelessness prevention funding will go from $5 million to $47 million. Weatherization efforts will jump from $13 million to $260 million. The department, which normally weatherizes 5,000 houses a year, will have to struggle to weatherize 65,000 homes in three.
As some committee members—Crownover and Darby, in particular—spoke on their concerns about the one-time nature of the money, Dunnam repeatedly defended it. “Why would we not help the people we can help right now?” he would ask. He was particularly proud of a metaphor in which he said that if he could only pay for two years of college for his daughter, he’d still send her there rather than make her miss all four years. He also continually pointed out that if Texas didn’t use its money, the funds would simply be reallocated (in Dunnam’s version, to California or Mississippi.) “This is our money,” he kept saying.
Crownover bristled at this characterization, and spoke up to say “This is our grandchildren’s money and that makes it even more of a sacred trust.”
Two things emerged from this report. First, the national debate is going to be repeated in Texas. Democrats are going to want to spend the money, and Republicans are going to question it. Second, the amount of money is staggering. $260 million for weatherizing! 65,000 homes! At least this puts money in the pockets of companies that do the work. I wasn’t at the hearing, but I wonder about $47 million for homeless prevention. How do you prevent homelessness?