Hurricane Harvey: Wake-up call for tax reform and government regulation to improve equality for all citizens


Hurricane Harvey was not preventable; however, researchers have predicted this flooding scenario for years.  The severe damage was partly caused by the failure of local, state and federal government regulations and planning. It was the lack of governmental oversight and absence of regulations that allowed floodplain to be transformed into corporate profit centers by building houses and industrial buildings.

In Houston two inches of rain will automatically cause flooding and somewhere in Harris County and  major flooding has occurred about every two years. Despite the repeated flooding, legislators avoided implementing meaningful flood control regulations such as prohibiting building on floodplains, having more green space for water drainage, or implementing building codes that require flood proof buildings. If you live in an earthquake zone, building codes demand that the structure can resist earthquake damage.  Why not have similar rules for buildings on a flood plains? To build a flood proof structure on a flood plain does not take rocket science. All you have to do is build it on on stilts so that the ground floor is free to flood without damage.

Houses on stiltsjpg

Such building code regulations would increase the cost to the developer, reduce profitability and increase taxes.  Instead, developers and corporations reaped the immediate profits through legal bribery to politicians (contributions to election campaigns) to block rules and regulations. They thereby transferred the preventable flood loss to the individual home owners. Similarly, the explosion at the Arkema plant near Crosby, Texas, occurred when the plant lost its refrigeration as its backup power supply was flooded. It was a failure of planning and regulations– It is so much cheaper to put the emergency power supply on the ground floor than high enough to prevent flooding.  This is similar to the  2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster–flooding of the emergency power supply which pumped the water to cool the reactors.

Eventually, it will be the American tax payer who will pay for the Hurricane Relief Package. Already FEMA reported that 95,745 people in Texas have been approved for emergency assistance. The agency has so far disbursed about $57 million to citizens in Texas and this is only the beginning.

As in all disasters, the lower and middle economic classes will disproportionately suffer. They are already living from paycheck to paycheck and  have limited resources to recover.  It is the role of Government to provide help to allow recovery. Yet, this is counter to the prevailing philosophy of the Republican party as illustrated by  more than 20 Texan representatives and senators, including Senator John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, who voted against the $50.5 billion 2013 Hurricane Sandy Relief Package for the victims of Superstorm Sandy that impacted New York and New Jersey.  They are now trying to rewrite their scandalous voting record by claiming that they voted against the 2013 Relief Package because it was “full of pork” — A patent lie.  The actual data as summarized by Linda Qui in the New York Times’ fact check article, Was 2013 Hurricane Sand Relief Package full of Pork.” points out that the Congressional Congressional Quarterly analysis said that $17 billion in the bill went toward immediate aid for Sandy victims while $33.5 billion was for “near- and long-term assistance and mitigation” of damage from future disasters. See the superb article

It is the government’s role to help all citizens regardless of race, age, gender and political preference. It is ironic that the Republican Texan legislators who all voted against the 2013 Hurricane Sandy Relief Package  will now need those New York and New Jersey legislators’ support to pass an estimate $150 billion Hurricane Harvey Relief act. Part of me thinks, Senator Cruz and Cornyn, you  got what you deserved. How do you dare to ask other legislators to support a Texas Hurricane Harvey Recovery Act when you previously voted against helping others. Also, you have consistently supported ways to shrink government, reduce taxes on the rich, reduced rules and regulations that were created to protect people. Luckily, not everyone is like you. The lawmakers from the New York-New Jersey region are not as callous and have already stated they will support help. As Republican RepPeter King of New York wrote in a tweet directed at Cruz., “I won’t abandon Texas the way Ted Cruz did New York.”

The damage caused by Hurricane Harvey reminds us that no one is an island and we all need each other’s support in time of crisis. The role of government is to help all people in need and create regulations to prevent a similar harm from reoccurring. Government rules and regulations are citizens’ only protection against corporate greed.

The upcoming tax reform debate and legislation is an opportunity to demonstrate that the well-being of all citizens is more important than increasing the wealth of the super rich and corporations who avoid paying taxes by holding their profits offshore. It means increasing the tax revenues to pay for infrastructure repair and reduce economic inequality. The tax reform bill will need to increase the taxes on affluent citizens and reduce corporate tax loopholes. Reducing taxes on the rich and corporations, the mantra of “Republican Trickle down economics,” has predominantly benefited the super affluent and reduced the prosperity of average Americans.

Hurricane Harvey disaster as a wake-up call to demand that the government is for the people and by the people and demonstrate that its role is to mitigate and prevent disasters and improve the quality of life of every citizen.

Contact your legislators and demand that they:

  1. Support Hurricane Harvey Relief funds
  2. Work on the Tax Reform Legislation that increases the taxes on the rich, reduces corporate tax loopholes
  3. Create legislation to protect individuals against corporate greed which means more industry regulations and infrastructure improvement.

Finally, remember the role of government is NOT to create rules and regulations to maximize immediate profits, it is to provide a future so that our great grandchildren have more equally and better productive and healthier lives.  If only the government, designers and builders of the houses in Houston had acted by this creed, flooding would have been a challenge but almost all people could have ridden out the storm at home.

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