Items these mayors wish to be addressed by the legislature are:
- Broadband development and accessibility
- Business support
- Early childhood education and healthcare
- Healthcare system
- Housing and utilities assistance
Appropriation of that windfall is on the legislature’s plate for the third special session but it has two stipulations set by Congress: the money cannot be used for tax cuts or to buttress pension systems, but the former condition is currently being litigated.
The $16 billion is a part of the American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) roughly $37 billion sum doled out to Texas and its political subdivisions.
Roughly $10 billion of that total was earmarked for local governments and it has already been divvied out, including to each of the municipalities whose mayors signed the letter.
Collectively, the 13 cities whose mayors signed the letter have already been approved for over $2 billion from that sum intended for Texas local governments — and that doesn’t include the monies allotted to the cities respective counties who often act in tandem with each other.
Additionally, Texas’ public schools have already received their $11 billion in ARPA aid.
A glaring absence from this letter is Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who oversees the third-largest city in the state.
“The pandemic caused an unprecedented level of disruption to virtually every aspect of our lives,” the letter reads.
“Many businesses ground to a halt, impacting the wellbeing and livelihood of millions of Texans. Schools were forced to provide education online, forcing educators to adjust to an entirely new way of teaching at a moment’s notice. Our healthcare system also faced challenges, which pushed the system beyond its limits.”
Each of these affected sectors was not just impacted by the coronavirus, but also by the government-mandated closures implemented by many of the letter’s signatories.
Also part of the ARPA package is $4 billion for Texas to use on infrastructure, and one such item that could fall under that category is broadband expansion. The state legislature approved a broadband expansion plan, which includes a Broadband Development Office whose purpose is to oversee and divvy out federal and state dollars for projects.
But the state could use a portion of its other ARPA funds on broadband. Right now, the only clear expenditure is a replenishment of the state’s unemployment insurance fund. But for whatever else is on the legislature’s wish list, which may include a $2 billion to $4 billion property tax compression, there will be roughly $7 billion with which to play.
The mayors’ letter concludes the appeal, saying, “Collaboration at all levels of government will help the State of Texas recover and move forward in a post-pandemic world.”
The state legislature’s 30-day clock to hammer out these expenditures has already begun and lawmakers have until October 19 to nail it all down.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.