Once again, Texas is suffering through a weather-related disaster. And once again, Texas is asking taxpayers in Minnesota and the other states to pay for what Texans defiantly refuse to pay for themselves.
Yes, the winter storm has been a nightmare. But snow and freezing temperatures in the Lone Star State aren't unheard of; they are about a once-in-a-decade event. And Texans aren't shivering through power losses because wind generators froze. It's because Texans won't tax themselves sufficiently to make investments appropriate to their needs.
David Tuttle, a research associate with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, told a local political podcast that the failure of the power system is that electric generating plants did not properly winterize their equipment. "There are things that can be done, but it will cost some money," said Tuttle.
The Dallas Business Journal underscored the persistency of freezing weather on the power grid and the consistency of Texans' turning a blind eye (and empty wallet) once the sunshine returns, citing a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report on power failures from a 2011 ice storm: Winterization "procedures were either inadequate or were not adequately followed," it said.
"That investigation," the Dallas Business Journal went on, "revealed what happened in 2011, also happened in 1989, which is the first time ERCOT ever implemented rotating outages."
Effective solutions, of course, take engineering skill and resources. Recommendations issued by the Texas Public Utility Commission in 1989 were ignored or lapsed. Same thing after the 2011 storm. And, when, as is likely, the Feds come to the rescue again in 2021, the same will be true when the next winter blast strikes Texas.
The same case can be made for at least some of the damage inflicted by hurricanes like Harvey in 2017. The challenge for Houston is not water surge, but heavy rain that has no place to go. Why? Because Texans have allowed developers to override effective zoning and have refused to invest in the infrastructure needed to store and move water effectively.
Steve Costello, Houston's recovery officer and often called the city's "flood czar," shares the Texans' penchant for not being shy in asking for a Texas-sized share of things Texas itself doesn't want to tax itself for. When asked how he would spend a $1 trillion infrastructure national pool of money, he told the Houston Chronicle, "I would want about $3 billion for the city of Houston and Harris County for the bayous."
Costello was speaking in 2017, after Hurricane Harvey. In the intervening years, there is no evidence of meaningful efforts in Houston, Harris County or the Texas Legislature to tax Texans for flood control in the bayous.
And why ask Texans to pay for a better and safer Texas when deep pockets in the other 49 states can be tapped? That raises significant policy questions that apply to all low-tax states as the Biden administration prepares a long-overdue and much-needed infrastructure investment plan.
Should states be required to meet a minimum level of local tax effort before they come to Washington for emergency aid? Should taxpayers in Minnesota and elsewhere subsidize the cost of damage that is the direct result of poor local policy choices? If Texans or residents of other states choose to ignore the reality of climate change and refuse to tax themselves for the cost of protecting its power system or managing the extreme precipitation events that are more and more common, should taxpayers in other states foot the cleanup bill?
If Texans again emerge from a disaster and again refuse to tax themselves for the cost of a secure electric system, that's their choice. But isn't it then reasonable for Minnesota taxpayers to demand that we stop footing the bill for cleaning up after their negligence?
Yes, we are one nation. We lend a hand and our resources to those in need without regard to state borders. It's also reasonable to share the cost of burdens that fall heavily on a single jurisdiction — security for border states or, to bring it home to Minnesota, the cost of public safety and criminal justice in Minneapolis in recognition of the disproportionate cost the Twin Cities bear for being the state's center of those in need.
But let's demand that those who ask for help first help themselves.
Tom Horner is a public-relations executive who was the Independence Party candidate for governor in 2010.