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.