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Texas Lawmakers Keep Questions on Border Security Operations Front & Center

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT
State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, chair of the Texas House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, listens to testimony on Aug. 5, 2014.

Gov. Rick Perry's border security surge was under the microscope at the Texas Capitol Tuesday. In two separate meetings, lawmakers tried to get a handle on how much money was being spent, and what the money was being spent on.

Gov. Perry’s office has identified a source for $38 million dollars in state funding that are going towards a deployment of up to 1,000 National Guard troops and an increase in Department of Public Safetyofficers in South Texas.

Yesterday, members of the Legislative Budget Board asked staff with the Governor and State Comptroller’s offices for some clarification on just where that money is coming from.

"I think for the most part this group was left out of even the information loop on this and so it’d be helpful for me to understand better," State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, said to Martin Hubert, deputy comptroller, at the hearing.

The $38 million is coming from an emergency radio infrastructure fund that’s under the Department of Public Safety, and other sources of state dollars are being considered to keep funding these operations.

Meanwhile, members of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety had their own questions about the deployment of National Guard troops along the border. Texas Adjutant General John Nichols told lawmakers the troops aren't there yet, but are being trained for the mission -- a mission that could last up to a year.

"This is a first ever for us, in the history of Texas, and I think the history of America, where the National Guard’s gone to the border for a long period of time," Nichols said.

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, or DPS, believes the surge of his officers is working because arrests are now down, but he told lawmakers he hopes DPS can get out of the business of border operations.

"Hopefully when we talk about getting out of the business, as soon as the federal government has properly resourced it, then the DPS and its local partners can focus on other aspects," McCraw said. "Until then, the Legislature and the Governor has made it clear: The consequences are too big and we have to do something about it. You can’t tell Texans we’re not gonna do our job."

Next week, the Senate Finance Committee is set to discuss funding for these operations again.

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