Abbott approves $495M transfer from state agencies to fund border initiative

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Texas Governor Greg Abbott transferred $495M from other state agencies Friday to continue funding his border initiative, Operation Lone Star. Nearly all of the money is earmarked for the Texas National Guard. Abbott took this action with the approval of Lt Gov Dan Patrick, Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, and chief Texas Legislature budget writers.

The decision was necessary to shift funding from the budgets of various state agencies to pay the Texas National Guardsmen because that funding is running out as of May 1. This latest financial move puts the total cost of the two-year efforts to protect the Texas border at $4 billion. Texas taxpayers are on the hook for Biden’s border crisis. Now the governor is transferring money to cover costs as the Texas Military Department warned that funding was running out.

There are 10,000 troops deployed for Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s border security initiative. 6,000 National Guard troops are stationed along the border. They help state troopers apprehend and jail illegal migrants trespassing on private property. State lawmakers allotted more than $400M for the Texas Military Department last year. That amount was in the two-year budget period, part of a $1.8B package paying for a surge in Department of Public Safety (DPS) troops to the border.

Then in late January, just a few months into the fiscal year, Abbott and state leaders moved about $480M from three state agencies to fund the National Guard deployments and fill in the funding shortfalls. The transfer made on Friday means it will cost Texas taxpayers more than $1.3B to keep the National Guard troops stationed along the border through August, the end of the fiscal year. This all adds up to more than triple the amount of the original budget.

In all, Texas’ border security budget now stands at about $4 billion for the current two-year cycle, roughly five times the amount spent in 2019-2020. State leaders will need to drum up additional funds to keep National Guard soldiers stationed at the border beyond August.

The latest funds are coming from the budgets of the agencies that were also tapped in January — the Department of Criminal Justice, Department of Public Safety and Alcoholic Beverage Commission — along with three others: the Health and Human Services Commission, the Juvenile Justice Department and the Department of State Health Services.

About half was budgeted to the state agencies last fiscal year, which the letter says “would otherwise lapse and be unavailable” to them. The other half comes from this year’s budget, all of which has “been fully funded with other sources,” the letter states without providing further detail.

Thanks, Joe. If Biden would do his job and secure the southern border, Texas taxpayers would not have to pick up the slack for his incompetence. Biden has no interest in the humanitarian crisis on the border or the consequences of his inaction felt in border communities. Abbott slammed Biden for “turning a blind eye to the crisis at our southern border.”

“Texans’ safety and security is our top priority, and we will continue fighting to keep our communities safe,” Abbott said. “This additional funding ensures the Lone Star State is fully equipped to provide Texans the border security strategy they demand and deserve.”

While some Texas Democrats side with Republican opposition to ending Title 42 at the border, Texas Democrats have worked to end Operation Lone Star. They call it political theatre and endangering the lives of troops on the border. If the lives of trained troops on the ground are endangered by the flood of illegal migrants and the cartels that profit from the open border, what about ordinary residents of border communities? What about landowners? If Biden won’t do his job, it falls to the governor to do whatever he can.

But Democratic lawmakers have also been critical of Abbott’s border operation, including more than 50 state House members who asked the Biden administration in January to investigate and “use all tools at your disposal” to end Operation Lone Star. And in recent weeks, Democrats in the Legislature have increasingly voiced concerns about the rising costs.

“Abbott continues to play political theater along the southern border and endanger the livelihoods of servicemen and servicewomen,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said Friday. “At this point, he has spent nearly three billion dollars of taxpayer money to sustain his antics while everyday Texans continue to struggle.”

Slowly there has been some positive movement along the border. In recent days, Mexican law enforcement has been seen along the Rio Grand River trying to apprehend migrants making a dash for the river. That kind of thing is a new development.

Governor Abbott tweeted out the news that Texas and Mexico held their first joint training session on the Rio Grande River.

Federal coronavirus relief funds are being used to fund Operation Lone Star indirectly, according to the governor’s director of budget and policy.

Texas has been using federal coronavirus relief funds to support Operation Lone Star indirectly. By backfilling public health and safety payrolls in other agencies with the federal funds, the governor can then redirect the money to the border security mission, Sarah Hicks, the governor’s director of budget and policy, said earlier this month during a hearing of the state’s Senate Committee on Border Security.

During Hicks’ testimony, she said the state had about $600 million in exchanges remaining, so Friday’s move was expected.

Suelzer also testified in the state Senate earlier this month, indicating he was looking at ways to reduce personnel on the deployment and cut costs. However, he said he won’t pull troops off the mission until he sees how a change in federal public health policy at the border impacts activity.

It’s an election year and Biden’s polling numbers are in the basement so suddenly he is pretending to care about the border. There was an hour-long phone call between him and Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, according to the White House. They allegedly discussed ways to do more to promote “just, humane and effective efforts to reduce irregular migration” at the border.

López Obrador tweeted that the conversation was “cordial” and that they “spoke of issues of interest to the bilateral relationship.” The agenda also included the upcoming Summit of the Americas in June in Los Angeles, and the end of coronavirus restrictions on asylum seekers trying to come to the U.S.

The two leaders also talked about addressing the root causes of migration through development initiatives in Central America and Mexico, according to a statement from the Mexican president’s office. They discussed the need to guarantee safe and sustainable ways of life for their citizens and migrants, as well as expanding legal pathways for migrants and refugees.

Better late than never, I suppose. It’s easy to be skeptical that this phone call is just window dressing for a flailing president as we head into midterm elections in November. His party will pay the price for his inactions. If he was serious about protecting Americans and securing the border, which he has proven time and time again that he is not, he would have not waited for his popularity to plunge in polls before establishing a relationship with the Mexican president. Where was Kamala during this phone call? She’s COVID positive but she could have been included in a Zoom call from the vice-president’s residence. This is not a serious administration. They deserve to lose control of both the House and the Senate and then the White House in 2024. It’s a matter of national security.