Gov. Perry Addresses Commission for Hurricane Recovery
Roadmap for future storms needed
*Note - Gov. Perry frequently departs from prepared remarks.
Thank you, Judge [Eckels] and thank you for your willingness to lead the charge as Texas continues to recover from the beating we took during hurricane season.
I would also like to thank the members of this commission for answering your state's call to help.
Today, you have heard a succession of people talking about the impact a natural disaster can have on a business, a community, a family and you have seen the damage firsthand on your tour.
As you process what you have heard and seen, we need you step up, and bring to bear your experience, your wisdom and your leadership ability, on the challenge of speeding our state's return from this hurricane season, and set the standard for all seasons to come.
The 2008 hurricane season will go down in history as the costliest in Texas history. In just eight weeks, our state was battered by three hurricanes and a major tropical storm. Hurricanes Dolly and Ike were especially brutal.
For the first time in Texas history, the president declared every county on the Texas coast a disaster area at the same.
When you tally up the damage for the 2008 hurricane season, you end up with an eye-popping total of more than $29 billion with a "b".
Since the winds died down from that succession of storms, Texans have been working to put their lives back together, sifting through the wreckage, rebuilding their homes and businesses, and waiting for the federal government to show up with aid the way it did after Hurricane Katrina.
We're still waiting.
After Hurricane Ike hit, I listened to leaders at the local level, consulted with our emergency management experts, and went face-to-face with our citizens living in shelters who were deeply affected by the devastation.
In response, I approached the federal government with some basic requests:
* to cover 100% of the costs associated with debris removal, emergency protective measures, and urgent public infrastructure projects for eighteen months
* to pay a more reasonable share of infrastructure restoration:
* and release the resources to set up our own alternative temporary housing program for our citizens.
FEMA's people have worked hard here on the ground, but it seems their bureaucracy has prevented them from delivering on our bottom line request: to simply treat Texas the way they treated Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
When the federal government doesn't keep its commitments and take care of business, Texans will do what it can to fill the gap. You are leading the charge into that gap.
Your state needs you to develop a roadmap for recovery and renewal after the most devastating storm season in Texas history.
You were chosen because of your direct knowledge of the situation, your relationships within the affected communities, and your proven commitment to making a difference.
Make no mistake; I will continue to aggressively use every resource available to ensure that Texas receives the dollars that it is owed. But in this situation and future disasters, Texas must find ways to get emergency relief to our neighbors as quickly as possible, and let the state deal with FEMA's traditional foot-dragging.
That is why I am strongly encouraging our legislature set aside money for a Disaster Relief Contingency Fund. A reasonable range would lie somewhere between $50 and $150 million.
In the coming weeks, I look forward to working with our legislators to hammer out the final amount, to enable Texas to respond to this and future disasters.
This fund would allow devastated Texas communities to begin taking care of essential needs immediately, like debris removal and emergency temporary housing for the displaced, then be replenished when FEMA finally reimburses those expenses.
That fund is one key way we can help our citizens whose lives are turned upside down by disasters and we need to find others.
So be creative: look for less obvious sources of funding to supplement the sources we would normally look to first, agencies like FEMA, HUD, SBA, USDA, and innovate new, additional ways to fund recovery.
I hope that you, the members of this Commission, will draw upon your diverse collection of professional backgrounds, research including testimonies compiled by our legislators, and the insights provided by our Division of Emergency Management, and craft a plan to improve the way our state responds to disasters.
Be careful not to get tunnel vision on the mechanics of recovery, the approach that merely restores our communities to their pre-storm condition.
Instead, challenge yourself to strive for renewal, so our affected communities turn out better than they were before, better prepared to deal with future storms.
In the process, you'll need to assess all of the available resources that could be part of the plan, examine their merits and downsides, and synthesize them into a coordinated approach.
For example, there are federal dollars available for building protections into our vulnerable communities.
I don't know if there is such a thing as completely storm-proofing something, but we should work to utilize those funds where possible, and apply them to projects like raising a school's elevation, or rebuilding a levee system to protect a vulnerable town.
As a good conservative, I agree with the federal government's incentive-based approach to these funds. They'll provide $3 dollars of funding for every $1 provided by the local communities.
We need your report to include a plan on where to get that dollar, because most of our coastal communities don't have it, especially after this past year. So you'll need to put your thinking caps on and figure out creative ways to attract private investment in these protection projects.
I already have one key selling point for you. Private investment in community protection projects, like a levee or an extended seawall, will reduce the impact on a community and keep the economy going after a disaster rolls through.
That's good for business and the community but, most of all, it's good for our people.
So thank you again for being here. Be thorough in your deliberations, creative in your planning, and bold in your recommendations.
Our people, their employers and their communities deserve your best effort, and our state will be all the better for it.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas.