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Lawmakers Question Perry's Funding of National Guard

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Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune
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Criticizing a lack of federal response on border issues, Governor Rick Perry announces deployment of up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border on July 21, 2014.

Some Texas lawmakers are questioning Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to tap $38 million in unused Texas Department of Public Safety funds to pay for the emergency deployment of the Texas National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Perry is citing a provision in the budget that allows him to tap unexpended funds for emergencies without using the more typical “execution authority” of the Legislative Budget Board, which has the power to move money between agencies when the Legislature is not in session.

“I understand and fully support the need for additional state resources to help secure the border,” said state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler. “I would also prefer that the governor call a special legislative session so we can develop a comprehensive plan that not only deals with border security but also addresses the humanitarian side of the issue and impacts to local communities.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus, Jason Embry, said the San Antonio Republican would have preferred a more “transparent” approach.

"Speaker Straus is pleased that financial support for the beginning of this deployment has been identified, although he believes a more transparent approach would have been to use the Governor's disaster funds, which Gov. Perry has previously used for border security,” Embry said.

Embry said the speaker stands ready to use the authority of the Legislative Budget Board once the Guard's mission is fully underway and the "actual costs of this deployment become more clear."

The $38 million Perry plans to use is in addition to the approximately $1.3 million a week DPS estimates it is already spending from its budget to pay for troopers and resources sent to deal with this year’s immigration surge. More than 57,000 immigrants, mostly children from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, have been flooding the United States border, and most of them are coming to Texas.

Relying on an addition or "rider" to the 2014-15 budget, Perry is transferring unused money originally earmarked for an upgrade to DPS's emergency communications system to fund the guardsmen sent to the border, the governor's office said. He’s able to do that, according to Rich Parsons, a Perry spokesman, because the rider lets Perry use excess revenues for emergency purposes.

Perry’s office issued a statement about the uncommon transfer on Friday evening.

"Through his authority to access certain funds during an emergency, the governor has secured initial funding for the Texas National Guard for the first two-and-a-half to three months of operation,” said Perry spokesman Felix Browne. “The governor will continue working with state leadership to secure additional funding from sources, including the governor's authority to respond to emergencies and disasters and budget execution."

The statement came after Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, criticized as “vague” the accounting used by Perry to pay for the National Guard.

“I strongly believe that it is irresponsible for this state to send our Guard to the border without ensuring they receive the funds they need to complete their mission,” Van de Putte wrote in a letter to the Legislative Budget Board on July 31.

Another Democratic senator, José Rodríguez of El Paso, said he wanted to look “closely at questions of the authority for these actions as we prepare for the 84th Legislature."

Jay Root is a native of Liberty. He never knew any reporters growing up, and he has never taken a journalism class in his life. But somehow he got hooked on the news business. It all started when he walked into the offices of The Daily Texan, his college newspaper, during his last year at the University of Texas in 1987. He couldn't the resist the draw: it was the the biggest collection of misfits ever assembled. After graduating, he took a job at a Houston chemical company and realized it wasn't for him. Soon he was applying for an unpaid internship at the Houston Post in 1990, and it turned into a full-time job that same year. He has been a reporter ever since. He has covered natural disasters, live music and Texas politics — not necessarily in that order. He was Austin bureau chief of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a dozen years, most of them good. He also covered politics and the Legislature for The Associated Press before joining the staff of the Tribune.
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