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Texas poised to maintain most of its border funding for Trump's first years

Despite the Trump administration’s early moves to ramp up detentions and deportations and build a border wall, Texas budget writers don't appear likely to significantly dial back funding for state-based border security operations this year.

A DPS trooper spots a motorist along Highway 83 in Starr County.

The Trump administration’s commitment to border security and increased immigration enforcement hasn’t convinced Texas budget writers to scale back from the record-setting budget it approved for the state's own efforts two years ago.

Both the state House and Senate released proposed budgets in January that maintained well over half of the $800 million in border security funding that lawmakers approved in 2015. That original funding was touted by state lawmakers as necessary because the federal government wasn't doing enough to secure the border.

After weeks of budget hearings, the Senate Finance committee voted on Wednesday to send an updated budget to the full Senate that kept border security operations funded at $800 million, the same amount lawmakers approved in 2015.

That’s despite the Trump administration’s early moves to ramp up detentions and deportations and Trump's request to Congress for $999 million for construction of the first phase of the border wall.

“We’re not yet sure what Congress intends to do,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat and the vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “We know that they plan to extend the wall and at the same time we know that President Trump and Congress are talking about increasing the number of Border Patrol agents. So we’re trying to put in place a structure by where we can reduce state funding as federal funding increases.”

The Senate committee’s version gives the Texas Department of Public Safety the lion’s share of the funding, about $714 million. But that’s a cut from the $732 million the upper chamber initially proposed in January.

Hinojosa said the Senate was spreading some of the money to several other agencies for border security efforts. Texas Parks and Wildlife would get $22 million instead of the $10.6 million initially proposed. Under the Senate proposal, the governor's office would receive about $50 million, which is traditionally used to award local governments grant monies for operations they undertake on the border. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission would receive about $7 million for border-security efforts and $3 million would go to the state's State Soil and Water Conservation board.

In the House, the Appropriations Committee is expected to send its updated budget to the lower chamber in the coming weeks. It’s proposed border security budget issued in January was significantly less that the Senate’s version: about $663 million, with DPS getting about $596 million of that total.

Appropriations Vice Chairman Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, said it would likely be up to budget writers in 2019 to decide how to scale back funding.

“Clearly if the federal government puts some money into border security, I’m sure there’ll be some draw down when that happens ‚ if that happens,” he said. But Longoria said that it’s too soon to tell what Trump’s border proposal would look like in its final form and that he and his colleagues would continue to work as it did under former President Obama. 

“Ultimately, I think whatever happens with the federal government, whatever direction they go and the repercussions of that, is going to be something that the Legislature is going to have to look at in 2019,” he said. 

Read related coverage from the Tribune:

  • Facing sluggish economic forecasts, Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced lawmakers will have $104.87 billion in state funds at their disposal in crafting the next two-year budget, a 2.7 percent decrease from the previous session two years ago. 
  • On the same day that Texas House Republicans doubled down on border security efforts and announced plans to send an invoice to the federal government, Senate Democrats said they were committed to fighting bills to eliminate sanctuary cities.

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