Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said Tuesday he wants to nearly double state spending to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border, proposing a “continuous surge” with 1,000 new boots on the ground and millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment.
The proposal, dubbed his “Securing Texans Plan” and unveiled Tuesday in Dallas, would also include tougher laws against sex crimes, gang activity and domestic violence.
At a cost of more than $300 million over two years, the proposal represents the largest government expansion he’s proposed as a candidate for governor. The border security package would entail the hiring of 500 new Department of Public Safety officers over four years — plus additional overtime and support staff — to help create what he called a “permanent border shield.”
“We must do more to protect our border going beyond sporadic surges,” Abbott said. “As governor I will almost double the spending for DPS border security. I’ll add more boots on the ground, more assets in the air and on the water, and deploy more technology and tools for added surveillance.”
Abbott would not specify any existing sources of funding to pay for the new programs. He said only that it would come from existing general revenue dollars.
“These are going to be budgetary priorities that must be paid first,” Abbott told reporters after his speech. He said seized dollars and asset forfeiture programs eventually would help pay for the border security portion, which exceeds $292 million over two years, but he wouldn't say how to pay for it before that money kicked in.
Asked if there were any programs that would have to be cut to pay for the dramatic spending increase, Abbott said, “I couldn’t identify them.”
“It would be whatever legislators may come up with they want to have funded. That is left to the ideas that will be articulated by the 150 state reps and 31 senators,” he said.
Abbott said he would not rely on “any new form of revenue,” including taxes or fees, to pay for the proposals.
“To be perfectly clear right now and forever: absolutely no tax increases whatsoever for any of my programs,” he said. “The Abbott administration will not have any tax increases.”
The campaign of Abbott’s expected Democratic opponent, Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, quickly issued a press release saying Abbott’s proposal matched a “nasty record” on border and immigration issues.
“Actions speak louder than words, and Greg Abbott’s actions are downright hostile,” said Davis spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña. “Greg Abbott’s positions don’t vary much from the ‘stop the invasion’ rhetoric we’re hearing from his allies. Abbott even went as far as comparing the Texas border to a third world country. Unlike Greg Abbott, Sen. Davis has a strong record of fighting for all Texans.”
Acuña was referring to Abbott’s reference to drug cartel bribery investigations in South Texas that recently ensnared a state district judge and others.
“This creeping corruption resembles third world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities and destroy Texans' trust and confidence in government,” Abbott said.
To deal with that problem, Abbott said he would spend $8 million over two years, mainly to hire 20 new Texas Rangers to investigate public corruption. He also proposed spending $24 million to buy 500 new “border patrol” vehicles and $13 million for eight new boats. And he wants to spend $8.4 milion to buy a high-altitude airplane and hire the 18 people needed to operate it.
Hiring the 500 new DPS officers represented the biggest expense — more than $100 million over two years and $275 million over four years, according to a written breakdown provided by his campaign. Another $92 million would go to support the continuous surge operation, through DPS overtime, fuel, support staff and other expenses, over two years.
The spending would be included in Abbott’s first budget if he’s elected governor, covering the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.
Abbott also proposed introducing the so-called E-Verify system, used to determine whether a particular employee has legal status, in state government. Even though he said the system was “99.5 percent” effective, Abbott said he would not apply that new enforcement program to the private sector, where the vast majority of undocumented immigrants work.
The big-business lobby, representing many companies that have for years relied on cheap immigrant labor, has long resisted increased worksite enforcement in Texas and elsewhere.
“I think that Texas should establish the leadership position by employing this first as a state body, show that it works, set the standard for what it should be, before the state goes about the process of imposing more mandates on private employers,” Abbott said.
The attorney general proposed spending nearly $46 million in the 2016-17 budget on crime-fighting initiatives that aren’t specifically directed at the border. Of that, $11 million would help ensure more sexual assault testing kits are quickly tested by local law enforcement agencies.
Abbott also would increase penalties for child kidnapping, expand anti-violence training in schools and spend an additional $20 million to crack down on gang violence. Abbott also wants to create a new civil cause of action against those who engage in so-called revenge porn, the practice of posting humiliating photos and videos of people on the internet.
“We must do more to keep Texas safe and we can,’” Abbott said. “As governor, I will fight to secure our familes, our communities and our border.”