Behind closed doors, Texas budget writers add $100 million for border surge

Texas Tribune News

A section of border fence in Hidalgo that runs between a national wildlife refuge and a local nature center ends abruptly when federal land stops.
A section of border fence in Hidalgo that runs between a national wildlife refuge and a local nature center ends abruptly when federal land stops.
Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

Texas budget writers emerged from behind-the-scenes negotiations this weekend with a proposal to move an additional $100 million from the state’s savings account to the office of Gov. Greg Abbott for “surge operations necessary to secure the border.”

Texas lawmakers are counting on President Donald Trump’s administration to repay the funds, which were authorized in a “supplemental” budget that the Legislature is expected to pass Sunday to pay bills coming due. Lawmakers are also expected Sunday to finalize a two-year budget for public programs in 2020 and 2021.

The Legislature authorized a large-scale deployment of state troopers stationed in counties along the Texas-Mexico border in 2015 at a cost of about $800 million for the two-year budget cycle — then appropriated roughly the same amount in 2017 to continue it.

Critics have questioned the purpose and effectiveness of the effort, but the Legislature has continued to replenish funding for it.

Saturday’s $100 million infusion for border security operations will expand the effort, but the appropriation didn’t include specifics on how the money would be spent.

Democrats have asked state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety, to produce statistics in an effort to investigate whether the massive border surge has worked. But a proposed amendment to the state’s two-year spending plan that would have mandated a study of the border spending’s effectiveness failed earlier in the legislative session.