Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pricetag for DPS, Texas National Guard border adventure approaching one billion dollars

So, lame ducks Rick Perry and David Dewhurst plan to commit the state to spending $86 million to continue the much ballyhooed border surge until August. Reported the Texas Tribune, "Gov. Rick Perry announced Tuesday that he, House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had reached an agreement that will cost about $86 million. If approved by the Legislative Budget Board, that spending will not need a green light from incoming lawmakers, who are set to gavel in in January."

And how to pay for it? "Perry said in the statement that the funding will include $13.7 million from the state’s disaster funds, $47.9 from the Texas Department of Transportation's general revenue bond fund, $7 million from the state's Emerging Technology Fund and $17.5 million from the Texas Public Finance Authority."

This proposed commitment of revenue outside the Appropriations bill by the Legislative Budget Board demonstrates exactly what's wrong with spending so much money on redundant and unnecessary border security measures in the first place: It's cost so much the money must be diverted from other necessary government functions, in this case spending on disaster response, roads, emerging technology, and state-owned facilities.

There's been much talk of a constitutional amendment to limit state spending but little talk of what should be cut. Grits fails to see a single state priority in the budget that's outweighed by the massive, on and off-budget ballooning of frankly frivolous border security spending in recent years. How much are we talking about? Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told the Tribune that:
“The reason to continue the border surge through the end of the fiscal year, which is Aug. 31, is because some of the newly elected officials may not be focusing on the fact that it's undoubtedly impossible to get a two-thirds vote in both chambers to continue it,” he said. “And once you don't get a two-thirds vote for immediate effect, the surge will stop, we'll have business as usual for the cartels and the $850 to $900 million that we just spent will be all for nothing.”
What could have been done with an extra $850 to $900 million over the last few years? If you spent every dime of it on transportation upgrades it wouldn't be enough, but it'd fill a lot of potholes. Ditto on school finance, health care, universities, or a half-dozen other investments one could name.

In the criminal-justice realm, that's more than enough to have simply eliminated the Driver Responsibility surcharge and funded hospital trauma centers out of the general fund. Or it could have provided more treatment and diversion programming to support local probation departments and helped the state close more prisons. If it'd been spent on some combination of diversion programming and improved guard pay, maybe TDCJ wouldn't face the understaffing crisis that presently besets it.

The border surge was for the most part a policy decision made outside the legislative process by a handful of state officials who are now exiting public service. It was approved after the fact as a fait accompli, though never really interrogated on its own merits as a budget priority before now. Clearly Dewhurst doesn't think there's sufficient support for a two-thirds vote (an assessment which frankly surprises me), so they want to lock in the spending specifically because they don't think it has sufficient political support in the Legislature. Fascinating.

The Austin Statesman added that the agreement between Perry, Straus and Dewhurst was subject to approval at a Legislative Budget Board meeting Dec. 1st, but if past is prologue, that's probably a rubber-stamp formality. It's truly remarkable how much money Texas has spent on this misbegotten border adventure with so vanishingly little to show for it.

UPDATE: The Austin Statesman followed up with a report that the National Guard deployment will only last through the end of March, pointing out that the initial statement on Tuesday "left the impression that the Texas National Guard, deployed by Perry in July, would continue to be an integral part of the enhanced border enforcement effort through the end of the fiscal year" in August. According to the Houston Chronicle, Dewhurst yesterday acknowledged the Guard will "wind down" its presence while the DPS "surge" will continue through August, if the LBB approves the agreement.

So Straus cut a slightly tougher deal with his lame duck counterparts than had been initially reported, though the overall total spent on misguided border security still speaks to off-kilter priorities when one considers the opportunity costs regarding what could have been accomplished with such large amounts of money.


Anonymous said...

Nothing to show for the money spent? How about all the cool pictures of Perry et al posing next to the machine guns on the DPS boats? Surely that's worth a lot.

Adam said...

Dewhurst says "we'll have business as usual for the cartels" if we don't spend more money. Newsflash: you haven't done a damn thing to affect the black market for illegal drugs. His efforts are blip on the radar.

Anonymous said...

Why in the hell does DPS have a gun boat???? The smugglers can hear those THREE 300 horse power engines on it from 10 miles away. Does DPS think the cartels want to go into battle???? No they want to make money and quietly move the drugs across the border. News flash for DPS.... The drugs are coming through the check points. Maybe TX DPS should focus their attention on where the Feds catch most of the drugs, at the checkpoints.

Here's a better idea, let the US Government enforce the border and take that gun boat out only when the Governor wants to go fishing. TX DPS has wasted almost a billion dollars for some headlines while our roads go with pot holes and our prisons go unstaffed. Maybe there wouldn't be as much crime if TDCJ wasn't a school for criminals. Well trained prison officers might stop the source for most organized crime in Texas, Texas prison gangs.

Anonymous said...

Bboys and their the expense of the taxpayer...don't we have enough "militia" to guard the border??? After all, our new governor intends to allow "open carry" laws to allow these militia to guard our borders for the bucks for the Rodeo!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ 1:59, Texas prison gangs are a big source of organized crime in Mexico, too, because they work (in Juarez, in particular) as soldiers for the cartels and are allegedly responsible for thousands of deaths south of the river.

The real "spillover" violence doesn't run south to north across the river but north to south. Twas ever thus.

Anonymous said...

I think the real question here is how is Perry getting his slice of this billion-dollar boondoggle. Anyone who has followed Perry's career knows he does nothing without pocketing cash. Follow the money and you'll find the real motivation behind this.

Anonymous said...

1:59am - the legislature and/or the executive branch(s) of state government authorize the funding provided to DPS.

Grandmom said...

Wondering why the drug cartels would risk the dangers of the desert to smuggle in drugs when they can just get in their jets and fly them in. So does it make sense to spend a billion $ to stop children from coming here to escape drug cartel violence and send them back to Honduras and Columbia to face their fate? Oh, well, just take it from the public school budget.

Anonymous said...

The little known truth is that tax dollars spent on the so called DPS "Surge" accomplishes nothing more than symbolic effort and political theater designed to boost Rick Perry in his dead end bid to become the 2016 Republican nominee for POTUS.

The favored stump speech references by Rick Perry regarding his "Ranger Recon Teams" assigned to the border are a prime example.

The total manpower of Texas Department of Public Safety commissioned officers in the Texas Ranger Division who carry the legendary rank and title of "Texas Ranger" is less than 150 individuals (that includes Chiefs and Indians).

These "Ranger Recon Teams" sporadically assigned to the border consist of a couple dozen or so Rangers, but the sound bites from Perry (and Abbott) are ridiculously misleading in that they lead a gullible press and uninformed public to believe that the Texas Rangers are a stand-alone law enforcement agency with a substantial presence along the Rio Grande.

Even with an additional three hundred or so Troopers and Agents DPS has assigned to the border at any given time with the politically appealing "Ranger Recon Teams", little if anything is accomplished in real border security when you consider the massive tax dollars allocated to support this so called "Surge", and the critical routine duties neglected by Texas DPS Troopers, Agents, and Rangers who must be reassigned from normal activities across the State to carry out the purely political "Surge".

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 06:39:00 AM:

In this case the Legislative Budget Board has authorized the funding for the DPS "surge", according to several news reports.