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Statesman Power Poll: Now is time to dip into rainy day fund

Austin, TX  |  April 30, 2020 9:00am  |  By Maribel Molina

State leaders should dip into Texas’ rainy day fund to offset the government’s financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic, Austin-area civic leaders say in the latest Statesman Power Poll.

Meanwhile, Power Poll respondents are split regarding their level of concern reopening businesses in Texas and whether in-person school classes should resume in the fall.

For the April edition of the monthly poll, nearly 900 government, business, cultural and civic leaders in Austin and surrounding counties were asked three questions about the coronavirus crisis. More than 200 community leaders responded.

Our first question focused on emergency funding: With a balance of $8.5 billion, do you believe Texas lawmakers should tap the state’s “rainy day fund” in response to the coronavirus pandemic?

A majority of respondents, 79%, answered yes. The number of participants who responded “no” or “unsure” was nearly equal at about 10 percent apiece.

Last month, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told the American-Statesman he expects the state’s rainy day fund would need to be used for government expenses.

“The amount Texas will need from its savings account and the timing of that need will depend on the coming weeks and months,” Hegar said in late March.

Gov. Greg Abbott would have to call the Texas Legislature back for a special session in order to directly use money in the rainy day fund, which stands at $8.5 billion and is funded by oil and gas taxes.

The second question in the survey addressed whether public and private schools in Texas should reopen in the fall of 2020.

Only 7% of participants answered “no.” Just under half of survey-takers chose the “unsure” choice at 49%. Another 44% voted “yes.”

In mid-April, Abbott announced in-person classes at both public and private schools in Texas would be canceled for the rest of the academic year.

The final question asked our members to rate their level of concern regarding the reopening process in Texas.

The largest share of voters, 36%, said they were “extremely concerned.” A quarter of respondents answered “moderately concerned,” and 17% said they were “somewhat concerned. Only 13% of participants chose the option for “slightly concerned” while 8% said they were “not at all concerned.”

In late April, Abbott issued an order permitting “retail-to-go,” in which retail businesses would be required to offer pickup or delivery service to customers. On April 27, Gov. Abbott announced his strategy for reopening businesses around the state. As part of phase one of his plan, the statewide stay-at-home order issued in March would expire at the end of April. Beginning May 1, restaurants, movie theaters and museums would be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity.

While some restaurant owners have welcomed the news to reopen, others have expressed concern. A recent health model showed an easing of stay-at-home orders could result in thousands of deaths in the Austin area.

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