To the Editor:
As I watched the news coverage of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, I was struck by our vulnerability in a universe we cannot control.
Harvey and Irma could cost the country upward of $200 billion to rebuild. This urgent need for federal emergency funds is likely to upend the already difficult partisan budget process.
The idea that Congress must cut other essential spending to meet the needs of communities that have been devastated has proved a non-starter. Seeking a down payment on essential emergency aid to Texas and Florida, President Donald Trump sought to avoid delays due to partisan wrangling by working with Democratic leaders willing to lift the debt ceiling on a short-term basis.
But the recently-passed $15 billion in emergency aid is likely to be used up by the middle of October. A divided Congress will find itself hard-pressed to appropriate somewhere between $100 billion to $200 billion more, the estimated amount needed to rebuild in Florida and Texas, while at the same time addressing other budget priorities and tax cuts.
If these recent disasters were only a one-time financial crisis, Congress might muddle through this providing some relief to residents of Florida and Texas while other budget priorities are shortchanged.
Adequate funding for natural disasters should be a given, not treated as a part of zero-sum political horse trading over budgets.
Rising sea levels indicate these natural disasters will be more frequent going forward. Being fully prepared, instead of merely responding to natural disasters, requires a sustained financial commitment.
A three percent surtax could be set aside to deal with natural disasters. Based on projected 2017 tax revenues, a surtax would raise just over $100 billion annually that could be used not only to cover emergencies and rebuilding, but also to make infrastructure improvements that might have spared much of the damage in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey, and in New Orleans during Katrina in 2005.
The modest surtax I’m suggesting, dedicated solely to prevention and recovery from natural disasters, would enable our federal government to strengthen infrastructure, save lives and protect property. At the same time, it would take disaster preparedness out of the political budget fray.
Thom M. Serafin
Founder and president/CEO of Serafin & Associates