Leaders of the state’s border security mission known as Operation Lone Star are set to receive $500 million more in state funding, with monies rerouted from several other state agencies.
The Texas Legislature originally approved around $2 billion for the program during the last legislative session. Now, Operation Lone Star’s budget would be almost tripled with the extra funding. The operation currently employs about 6,000 Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety troops.
Jasper Scherer has been covering the story for the Houston Chronicle where he reports on Texas politics from its Austin bureau. Listen to the interview with Scherer in the audio player above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: About $500 million more is going to Operation Lone Star. Where does that put the total price tag at the moment?
Jasper Scherer: It’s right around $4 billion, maybe a couple dollars and cents short of that figure. But it’s kind of hard to keep track of all this because there is, as you mentioned the $2 billion approved during the legislative session. That’s on top of some other money that was approved earlier in the year. So when you add all the pots of money together, we’re looking at about $4 billion.
So the Legislature approved about $2 billion. Is that $2 billion for border security broadly or is it specifically for Operation Lone Star?
That’s specifically for Operation Lone Star. There was some border security money generally approved earlier last year, but that $2 billion sum Is specifically for the governor’s border mission. And it should be noted that right at $4 billion, that’s about five times what the state has typically been spending over a two-year cycle. They’ve been typically spending around $800 million. That’s what they spent last time. So this is clearly a major ramp up and really unprecedented in a lot of ways.
Because that initial money was allocated and then the governor and other state leaders asked for about $400 million just in January, and now another $500 million, why does this keep happening? What are the expenses that are being incurred that require the governor and other leaders to go back again and again and ask for more money?
So this money is specifically to fund operations for the Texas National Guard, which has about 6,000 troops stationed along the border and 10,000 overall, roughly, supporting this operation around the state. And I think it just comes down to state lawmakers just didn’t approve enough money. I think they kind of underestimated both how many soldiers would be deployed, and also the continued cost of paying their salaries and other assorted costs.
They have to set up semi-permanent housing at this point. They’re down along various points of the border for months at a time. So those costs can really rack up. They approved bout $400 million initially for the National Guard last year. As you noted, they approved another almost $500 million in January. And then we’ve got the latest total from Friday. So that puts it at about $1.3 billion for the National Guard alone. And then you’ve got all those otherborder security-related costs. So it’s really stacking up.
This money is coming from other state agencies; which ones?
It’s coming from six different agencies and some of the more notable ones are ones that are sending the most include the Department of Public Safety. There’s already a bunch of money going to the Department of Public Safety to take part in this border mission. So they’re basically shifting around money. We don’t have all the details from the governor’s office on this, but apparently the Department of Public Safety has some money to spare. And we’re also looking at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Department of Criminal Justice and a few others. The governor’s office says they won’t be negatively affected in any way by it, but we just don’t have any details at the moment on how that can be the case.
So it’s not clear precisely which line items might be targeted, which specific expenses that these agencies incur. We don’t know exactly what they might be losing out on. Do I have that right?
Correct. Yeah, that’s right. And in the governor’s press release announcing all this on Friday, he did give us some details. Some of the funding from these agencies is going to come out of their prior budgets so they would have had to return any unspent money anyway. And the other half of the money is going to be funded with other sources. That’s about as much detail as we have. So we’re digging into that and hopefully we’ll be able to report some follow-up with more details about what this means for the agencies.