Small Victories Among Big Wins in ARPA Spending

Last week, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 8 appropriating $13.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds authorized by Congress earlier this year. While the bill includes a few big-ticket items including $7.2 billion to shore up the state’s unemployment compensation fund and $500.5 million for needed broadband infrastructure expansion, the Legislature also made smaller, but meaningful investments that address components of larger policy issues, including appropriations for our emergency preparedness, critical infrastructure planning, and public spaces. 

Emergency Preparedness

With regard to emergency preparedness, SB 8 allocates $300 million to the Texas Division of Emergency Management for building a state operations center.  The current state operations center, or SOC, is housed within a former nuclear bunker in central Austin.  Given the number of disasters affecting this state, Texas’ SOC is one of the busiest emergency operations centers in the country.  The current facility is not large enough to accommodate all personnel required for larger emergencies.  Consequently, the Division has had to rent space in Austin to host staff needed for emergency events.  The appropriation of $300 million enables the Division of Emergency Management to build a new operations center capable of holding needed personnel. Further, a new center would allow for the better integration of new technologies into the new space.  Combined, these changes will help improve the state’s response to disasters.

Critical Infrastructure Planning

Critical infrastructure planning also received a much-needed funding boost.  SB 8 appropriates $300,000 to the General Land Office for a cost and component analysis of the Coastal Texas Study design elements to be conducted by the Gulf Coast Protection District.  This study will evaluate the cost of the coastal protection project recommended by the US Army Corps of Engineers, including the anticipated fiscal requirements for continued operations and maintenance.  Once complete, this study will provide a fiscal roadmap for coastal protection projects needed to protect coastal communities from hurricanes.

Public Spaces

Lastly, SB 8 gave needed funding for state parks and historical sites.  The Legislature appropriated  $20 million for the Historical Commission for the agency’s capital plan project for the Washington-on-the-Brazos state historic site.  These funds will be used to improve the birthplace of Texas, including enhancements to the Star of the Republic Museum.  

Other public museums also received a funding boost.  The Briscoe-Garner Museum, honoring the lives of Vice President John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner and Governor Dolph Briscoe, received $235,000.  In addition, $100 million was appropriated for the maintenance of the Bob Bullock State History Museum administered by the State Preservation Board.

The Legislature also set aside funds for parks and public spaces.  $40 million was allocated to Texas Parks and Wildlife for education and outreach grants.  Another $3 million was dedicated to the Texas State Aquarium Center for wildlife research. And $5 million was directed towards beach and dune maintenance in Brazoria County, ensuring necessary coastal protection and improvements for Texas’ public beaches.

These smaller line items within SB 8 comprise important investments that reflect the principles and priorities laid out in the Federal Funds Playbook we released earlier this year. While this is an important down payment, Texas will need to allocate additional resources to the areas of emergency preparedness, critical infrastructure, and public spaces in order to meet our growing state’s future needs.