State lawmakers have proposed providing $200.9 million in one-time state funds to assist with recovery and relief efforts resulting from Hurricane Matthew, wildfires in the Western part of the state, and Tropical Storms Julia and Hermine. A little over half of the relief aid comes from drawing down the state’s Savings Reserve Account, which has a current balance of nearly $1.6 billion. The other half of relief aid is unappropriated funds in the state budget for the current fiscal year.
The disaster recovery funds are allocated to eight different entities and the proposed bill specifies the intended use of funds, such as providing state matching funds for federal disaster assistance program, helping meet short-term housing needs of affected individuals, assisting affected counties with resilient redevelopment planning, grant and loan programs for affected businesses, and grants to local governments for infrastructure construction, among other permitted use of funds.
The proposed legislation represents a promising start in that it provides needed resources to assist in rebuilding more resilient communities—and is explicit in that goal for long-term transformation of the region. However, approximately 88,000 homes were damaged with a total loss of more than $967 million. That is far great than the impact of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 when a total of 56,000 homes were damaged. Moreover, entire towns were flooded to the rooftops. More than 8,000 businesses have requested assistance due to physical or economic impact loss. Wildfires in western NC have resulted in more than 62,000 total acres burned.
The scale of the damage is large and will require a sustained commitment at the state level beyond providing one-time disaster recovery funds. This will require lawmakers to ensure that adequate state resources are available for subsequent disaster recovery assistance and not at the expense of foregoing public investments in our public schools, healthcare services for the elderly and poor, access to an affordable college education. However, the disaster recovery bill could potentially mean borrowing against next year’s budget because it requires the Governor to recommend replacing the $100.9 million in Rainy Day Fund dollars committed in the current relief aid bill in his 2017-18 budget. Requiring cuts to next year’s budget to pay for hurricane assistance today would only hurt the kind of ongoing investments needed to help these communities rebuild and thrive.
Lawmakers can ensure adequate revenue is available for relief aid and public investments by stopping yet another corporate income tax cut. Halting this tax cut would create $349 million in revenue to make that commitment this year, which would help ensure all North Carolina communities can thrive.