Proposed $60M border security surge pushed back

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent and K-9 security dog keep watch at a checkpoint station, on Feb. 22, 2013, in Falfurrias, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent and K-9 security dog keep watch at a checkpoint station, on Feb. 22, 2013, in Falfurrias, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN (AP) — The lieutenant governor’s plan to spend $60 million to quickly ramp up security along the Mexican border won’t likely happen until September, raising accusations by his primary opponents that his urgent call for a border enforcement surge was politically motivated.

Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who’s facing the toughest re-election campaign of his 11 years in office heading into Tuesday’s primary, vowed in December to seek a swift funding boost for enhanced patrols along the Texas-Mexico border. At the time, he said the payout would happen as soon as possible.

He stood alongside Steve McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, who said his agency was ready to implement a “permanent surge” of troopers, boats and aircraft. Dewhurst said “we can come up with the money” in the state’s $190 billion budget — meaning cutting funds elsewhere to pay for the plan.

But Dewhurst’s spokesman, Andrew Barlow, said this week that the surge initiative likely won’t happen until fall.

“He is continuing his efforts to make the surge approach an everyday reality, working with leadership offices to fund the effort. He hopes to reach an agreement to resume the surge on September 1st of this year,” Barlow wrote in an email.

Dewhurst unveiled the plan in his official role as Senate leader and one of the state’s most powerful figures, not while out campaigning. But Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, one of three prominent Republicans running to unseat Dewhurst, said Thursday that he thinks the plan was a campaign ploy.

“David Dewhurst’s announcement last year is a little too late, and was clearly an election-year gimmick,” Staples said.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and state Sen. Dan Patrick are also challenging Dewhurst in what is the state’s most competitive primary race.

Barlow denied that politics factored into the timing of Dewhurt’s unveiling of the surge plan, saying Dewhurst announced it soon after seeing first-hand the final days of a three-week DPS initiative called “Operation Strong Surge.” In a statement, he said Dewhurst’s “enthusiasm drove the call for year-round operations and has kept the issue moving despite the challenges of securing funding in a year with no legislative session.”

Officials said the operation resulted in significant decreases in criminal activity, but critics slammed the DPS for traffic roadblocks that they claimed were state-run immigration traps. McCraw denied those allegations, but said the DPS wouldn’t use roadblocks again without the Legislature’s consent.

Border security has been a dominant issue among Republican candidates, including Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said that if elected governor, he plans to spend $300 million to station 500 more state troopers along the border.

Texas has spent more than $800 million on border security in recent years, which Dewhurst boasts happened on his watch. Patrick, who has been criticized by Democrats and some Republicans for saying tighter border security is needed to “stop the invasion” of immigrants, called the latest proposal a political stunt.

“Waiting until after the budget process is over to address what ought to be a public safety priority issue is a classic election year conversion,” Patrick spokesman Allen Blakemore said.

A new budget year begins in September. If the $60 million for the surge waits until then, state leaders could use budgeting tricks to give DPS the funding and settle the tab when the Legislature reconvenes in 2015 — thereby averting state cuts somewhere else now.

“We should do whatever is necessary. It shouldn’t be politicized (where) you win the argument by upping the ante,” Patterson said. “It’s silly, it’s politics and it’s all too often what’s done.”

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