July 08, 2007
Border sheriffs say "Where's our money?"

I'm equal parts amused and confused by this story.

Running for re-election, Gov. Rick Perry repeatedly praised border-county sheriffs and their deputies for being "on the front lines" of a violent battle to keep criminals out of Texas.

But a year later, those on the front line feel as if they're on the back burner.

Only a small portion of about $110 million approved by lawmakers this year - as a cornerstone of the governor's legislative agenda - will go directly to border counties for day-to-day operations.

Instead, about $93 million is going to state police and state-run operations, the big winners being the Texas Department of Public Safety and the governor's Department of Emergency Management - with no guarantees that the additional 50-plus troopers, dozens of auto-theft and narcotics investigators, state surge operations and handful of Texas Rangers will wind up on the border.

Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores said he places the blame squarely at the feet of lawmakers who "played politics" with the governor over the issue.

And lawmakers are unapologetic, saying the money is better spent at the state level. But the final product looks almost nothing like what the sheriffs envisioned when they accompanied Mr. Perry on campaign stops, in TV ads and at news conferences to boost his support in the Democratic border counties.

"Three times more troopers means three times more ticket writers," said frustrated Zapata County Sheriff Sigi Gonzalez, a Democrat who appeared in two campaign ads for Mr. Perry, a Republican. "The DPS can do all they can, but it's not border security."

I'm amused, of course, because the natural reaction is to say "That's what you get for trusting Governor Perry". You knew what he was when you got into bed with him. I can't say I feel any sympathy.

I'm confused because as far as I could tell during the fight over HB13, it looked like the border sheriffs were going to wind up in fat city once this money was allocated. Remember the concerns of the border police chiefs? And how an amendment to explicitly put all homeland security activities under DPS was tabled? I'm not exactly sure how we got here from there.

Aides to Mr. Perry assured that the border would see a majority of the money, whether it's directly controlled by the locals or not. Most of the $63 million earmarked for "surge operations" and overtime under the Texas Department of Emergency Management would be largely for the sheriffs and police to use, not just the portion specifically earmarked for the local agencies, spokesman Robert Black said.

"I would venture to guess that the border region is going to see a lot more than $17 million," he said.

Some of the money will be spent in other regions of the state, he said, to combat crime that comes "as a result of the porous border" - such as drug gangs in big cities or trafficking along the highways.

"But the governor, of all people, is well aware that it's best to stop it at the river," Mr. Black said. "Border security starts at the border."

House and Senate budget writers said Mr. Perry pushed for more money to go to the locals. They acknowledged that the sheriffs had been led to expect a lot more than $17 million - divided who knows how many ways.

But several said they felt better about funneling the money to the DPS and other operations run by the state because they have more control over those dollars - and because state agencies can more easily absorb the loss if the programs aren't funded anew in the next two-year state budget.

"It's an enormous amount of money, and we need to be cautious about how we go forward with it," said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. "Let's see what we can accomplish in the next 18 months, and then in the [next] session we may say we need to look more to the locals and tip our hat to them."


In May, lawmakers created the Border Security Council to advise the governor on how to disburse those funds, along with federal money being pushed for sheriffs at the congressional level. But they did not specify when it would be created, how many people would be on it and what the criteria for grants would be.

The only guideline is that one-third of the council must be from the border region. A Perry spokeswoman said there is no set timeline for creating the council or doling out the funds, which aren't available until September.


As for the remaining $93 million, no one's specified exactly how that will translate into border security either. DPS officials haven't released a plan, and the governor's office has yet to be specific on the emergency management division's ideas beyond funding a central border intelligence center.

DPS officials said this week that the 106 commissioned officers and 14 noncommissioned officers hired with the new money would be "all stationed along the border and in the contiguous counties to the border."

"We really are going to do it," spokeswoman Tela Mange said. "We just, at this point, don't know where exactly and what types of personnel."

Maybe the confusion is to be expected in a situation like this. Maybe the border sheriffs will wind up getting most of what they wanted in the end, and maybe their public carping will have something to do with that. I guess I'm just surprised that it had to come to that for them, given Governor Perry's clear preferences and how this bill (which wound up being shoveled into SB11 after HB13 died a long and drawn-out death) enacted just about everything Perry wanted. I'm certainly not unhappy that DPS will get the lion's share of this dough, I just didn't expect it to play out this way.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 08, 2007 to National news

I'm confused, too. I think a bunch of the border reps got suckered. They signed onto this boondoggle b/c they thought the cash was going to the Sheriffs. But the final decision was left in the Governor's hands, and it sounds like he screwed them.

Glad you're back in the saddle, Charles. Hope your health improves rapidly. best,

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast on July 8, 2007 4:26 PM

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. This governor has been consolidating power in ways no other governor has before. This gives him more governmental functions, more money and more staff under his control.

Posted by: muse on July 9, 2007 7:56 AM