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Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Talks Resiliency, 2020 Focus

Published Nov 19, 2019 by Kelsey Seeker

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

In her first State of the County address, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo detailed the county’s accomplishments in key areas, including community engagement, criminal justice reform, resiliency and flood control. Judge Hidalgo also announced that early childhood development would be a focus for her administration in 2020.

Hidalgo started her TED-style keynote with a number displayed on the screen: $5,093,442,000. That is the county budget for the current fiscal year. 

Hidalgo noted that during her campaign last year and in the early days after she was elected, several people told her county was really just responsible for maintaining roads and bridges. “That’s more than bridge money,” Hidalgo said, pointing at the screen. “With that sort of budget, you can build bridges to opportunity for the people of Harris County.”

Harris County is the third most populous county in the nation and is experiencing rapid growth in comparison to other major counties across the county. It is home to nearly 4.7 million residents and more than 116,000 businesses. 

“The strength of Harris County is essential to the overall strength of the greater Houston region and its place among top metros,” Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey said. 

Bolstering Harris County’s Resiliency Efforts

Hidalgo highlighted the drainage improvement projects the County fast-tracked for the 105 subdivisions in unincorporated Harris County that flooded due to poor drainage infrastructure, and the 1,178 homes that were saved from potential flooding as a result of the work to buy out houses in floodplains. 

“The truth is, there is no silver bullet to flooding. But we can take the most meaningful, aggressive steps to get to where we need to be,” Hidalgo said. “That’s why we're shifting the paradigm on how we deal with flood control to put people and science over politics.”

Harvey applauded Judge Hidalgo’s response after Tropical Storm Imelda and the establishment of the Imelda Assistance Fund. He referenced the Partnership’s work with county, city and state officials to pass state legislation that secured $2 billion flood planning, recovery and resilience package. That will draw down an additional $5 billion in federal funding. 

With the approval of State Constitutional Amendment Proposition 8 earlier this month, $793 million will be dedicated to address future flood mitigation needs across the state of Texas through the creation of the Flood Infrastructure Fund.

“The momentum to achieving significant improvement to the region’s flood resiliency is building, and necessary for our continued growth,” Harvey said. “The Partnership looks forward to working with Judge Hidalgo and her administration to ensure this momentum continues and a more resilient Houston prevails.”

Other Reforms 

In highlighting the County’s criminal justice reform efforts, Hidalgo cited an independent study showing that over a five-year period with bail reform in effect, 1,600 fewer felonies would have been committed. After accounting for both reductions in jail time and increases in probation time, the county would have saved an estimated $20 million in supervision costs alone.

“The bottom line is that we don’t have to choose between protecting public safety and protecting the constitutional rights of defendants,” Hidalgo said.

On the air quality front, Hidalgo pointed to the county committing millions of dollars in September to build a state-of-the-art air monitoring network, hire public health and safety experts, and add resources for HazMat First Responders. "We are working to shift from a reactive, to a proactive stance when it comes to our environment," she said. "All told, this represents the most significant expansion of the County’s ability to address environmental challenges in at least 30 years."

Early Childhood Education Harris County 2020 Focus

Hidalgo ended with an announcement of the County’s focus in the coming year – an emphasis on early childhood development. 

“Early childhood programs have more of the strongest returns on investment for any type of public program,” Hidalgo said. “Early next year, we will engage our community in a series of conversations regarding early childhood development and education during the crucial first 3 or 4 years of a child’s life.”

With four times as many people having come to speak before Commissioners Court this year as compared with all of 2018, high levels of community engagement are expected as Hidalgo seeks community input on the new initiative. 

“Our job is to focus on the intersection between what meaningfully impacts our community and where the county has the authority and ability to make a positive difference,” Hidalgo said. "The issues we prioritized this year were about core immediate needs. Tomorrow is about not only continuing that work, but also building on that progress to invest in our future." 

View Judge Hidalgo's full speech and learn more about Harris County

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Houston Economy to Face Major Job Losses, Recession from Coronavirus and Oil Plunge

4/1/20
Houston is likely to see significant job losses and a prolonged drain on its economy from the COVID-19 coronavirus.   That was one of the major takeaways from a virtual presentation by Patrick Jankowski, Partnership Senior Vice President of Research, on March 31. Jankowski discussed his latest analysis of COVID-19, collapsing oil prices, the imminent U.S. recession, and their impact on Houston’s economy.  Jankowski stressed that because of the unprecedented and ongoing nature of the situation, predicting the economic impact is difficult at this time. “With the situation changing daily, we can’t really get a good read on what’s actually going on yet,” he said.  Jankowski referenced the next Bureau of Labor Statistics’ jobs report, which will be based on the number of employees on payroll during the second week of March and won’t include the waves of layoffs that happened during the third and fourth weeks of March. It won’t be until the April report is released in early May when we will see the real impact on the job market. Pandemic will determine recession’s length and severity  “We are coming off a period of 113 consecutive months of job growth, the longest expansion in US history and a phenomenal jobs report,” Jankowski said. “Last week we saw 3.3 million claims for unemployment benefits, and I believe that number will only rise as more people are laid off, the system becomes less overloaded and people figure out how to apply for benefits.”  Given the single week of job losses based on the initial claims for unemployment insurance in Texas and Houston’s share of Texas’ jobs, Jankowski estimates mid-March losses in the region will be around 37,945 jobs.  Jankowski noted that measures to combat the coronavirus are also combating the economy. He referenced the U.S. GDP forecasts from major financial institutions that estimate a decline in GDP for the first quarter of the year that continues through the rest of the year.   “From my perspective - yes, we are in a recession and the situation will worsen in Q2,” Jankowski said. “We hope to have some growth in Q3, but we will end of the year worse off than at the beginning.”  Add that to the drop in oil prices and the Texas Railroad Commission being asked to regulate crude oil production for this first time since the 1970s, Jankowski believes the crude collapse will only add to Houston’s misery.  Small businesses and other industries hurt the worst  Jankowski mentioned the Partnership’s survey of its small business members and found that 29% were unable to deliver goods or services, 59% are operating below half capacity and the most concerning, that 41% can survive only 1 to 4 weeks.  He also highlighted industry sectors that are most at risk during this initial period and the 777,000 jobs tied to those sectors. The sectors include those impacted by social distancing (like retail), those whose services can’t be delivered remotely (such as plumbers and other home services), those that aren’t considered essential (such as the arts), and most small businesses (that tend to operate on thin margins).   “If this virus continues after May, every job is at risk, every sector is at risk,” Jankowski stressed.  “And even if you are working from home and able to provide services to some degree, you may be affected. We will see additional layoffs to what we’ve already experienced.”  Houston predicted to lose at least 150,000 jobs  There are two ways to predict how Houston will fare – looking at models based on assumption or based on history.   The Institute for Regional Forecasting shows 18 different scenarios of how the virus and oil prices will play out, with the most likely scenario from their prediction showing Houston down by 44,000 jobs. On the other hand, The Perryman Group’s model is forecasting 256,000 jobs lost.   “These are two very different forecasts and you’re really seeing that uncertainty play out in these models,” Jankowski said.   By referencing the history of recessions Houston has experienced, Jankowski estimates Houston’s jobs loss will hover between 150,000 jobs and 350,000 jobs.   “Given how Houston fairs when oil is faring badly and then when the US economy not doing well, we are likely to look like between 2008-09 recession and oil bust we had in the 1980s,” Jankowski said.   With a job loss of 13.2% from 1982, that amounts to about 417,450 jobs today. Using the Great Recession benchmark of 4.5%, that loss is closer to 142,325 jobs.  Collapsing oil prices on par with 1982 energy bust  With the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia spilling onto the world stage and affecting the price of crude, Houston has already felt the effects.   On March 30 of this year, the price of oil closed at $21.07 a barrel. During that same month in 1982, the price was $10.25 but adjusted for inflation, it closed at $24.37 a barrel.   “We can expect crude to slowly climb back into the low $30s by mid-summer without a Russia-Saudi deal,” Jankowski said. “We’ll see any jobs we regained from the 2014 fracking bust disappear and a leaner, smaller industry in the next two years with more consolidations and bankruptcies taking place.”  Houston in one word – resilient  One of the biggest determining factors in an economic rebound will be the level of fear people still have around the virus, Jankowski said. Even on the downward slope people will practice at least a degree of social distancing. He reiterated the damaging shock to consumer confidence the virus has caused.   “The economy really won’t be able to recover until people feel comfortable spending again. However, if there’s one word I would use to describe Houston, it would be resilient,” Jankowski said. “We've been through five downturns since the 1980s and yet the economy is larger now and more diverse than ever before.” 
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