Analysis of Texas Proposition 2: Water Delivery Still An Issue, Even In 2019

This is part of a series on the 10 propositions appearing on the November 2019 Texas Constitutional Amendment Election.

Water development assistance via Texas Water Development Board
Proposition 2 (SJR 79)
“The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas.”

There exists a program administered by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) called EDAP (Economically Distressed Areas Program) that provides infrastructure in areas of Texas that do not have adequate water delivery services or sewage.

Before we think colonias along the border or remote Panhandle communities, consider this: As early as the 2010s, there was a community in the Austin metro area that relied on a “stand pipe” at a county facility to haul in their own water in personal containers. The county is still providing water distribution sites because of a lack of water infrastructure — even in the shadow of an international airport and in one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation.

Overflowing sewage is another problem, which needs no further explanation as the propensity for disease in those situations is common knowledge (or should be). Smaller communities often suffer from this as older, vitreous clay underground pipes are beginning to decay in increasing numbers.

Water distribution and proper sewage is a public health concern. That’s not up for debate. The rest is in the details.

Recommendation: Neutral (leaning Against)

This amendment is well-intentioned, but these kinds of infrastructure improvements should come from General Revenue using the existing chain of command and with the direct consent of the legislature (where a debate can bring public attention to an often ignored problem). By using General Revenue, the state may not need to use bonds which further shackle local taxpayers to even more debt than is already incurred by them.

A constitutional amendment would give too much authority to a specific program and agency. Another factor to consider here is one of “mission creep” — once EDAP is successful in building sewage and water distribution systems in most of our far-flung and impoverished areas, the program will have constitutional permanency. What will the program do then, self-terminate? Name us one government program that has.

A point of political philosophy for conservatives to consider: When the people are in such squalor (open sewers, having to haul in their own tap water, etc.) there is a viable option left for them in a state with such unparalleled economic prosperity:

Move.

County government may be well within its scope and moral authority to provide a public stand pipe, and the state may have an interest in making sure our most vulnerable are not consuming raw sewage, but when government enables hardship to continue by offering piecemeal solutions, we may be accelerating their other problems. Such terminal communities may need to be abandoned rather than put on life support.

But given the almost total lack of opposition during the 86th Legislature, and given the fact that this assistance will be given in the form of bonds that will likely be paid back over time with interest, we are prone to remain neutral on this matter (which will probably pass anyway). At least it’s a critical need — even if an economics lesson is in order.

Below is the analysis from the Texas Legislative Council containing pros and cons.

Comments by Supporters

• The EDAP administered by the Texas Water Development Board is an essential program that needs additional funding. Without this additional funding, the ability of the board to continue funding existing projects and support future projects for communities that could not otherwise afford secure access to safe water will be jeopardized.

• The high costs associated with maintaining and expanding water infrastructure in Texas are best financed through the issuance of bonds as this will allow for greater and more reliable long-term funding. Funding the EDAP through general revenue appropriations would strain existing revenue sources and force lawmakers to choose between meeting
the state’s water infrastructure needs and providing other important public services.

• In certain areas of the state, a lack of adequate sewer services has led to raw sewage runoff, overflowing septic systems, and public health problems. The EDAP is a key tool for the state to attempt to address these issues and ensure that all Texans have basic water and sewer services.

• A reliable, sustained funding source for the EDAP incentivizes economic development, investment, and job growth.

Comments by Opponents

• The state should not constitutionally dedicate funds to specific programs. Any necessary infrastructure improvements should be funded using general revenue.

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