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Editorial: It's past time for a hard look at unproven 'border surge'

By Longview News-Journal
April 7, 2015 at 4:15 a.m.


Most politicians these days deny it, but in general they like to spend money. Political party doesn't much matter, nor is it important whether they call themselves conservative or liberal.

What usually concerns them is how the dollars they spend will assure them of votes in the next election cycle. And all of them become budget hawks when money might be spent that could help someone who sits across the political aisle.

Any program, no matter how wasteful it might be, is of the utmost necessity, however, if it will further the cause of their own re-election.

These truths come to mind as we consider the so-called border surge to strengthen security at the Texas-Mexico border.

One of former Gov. Rick Perry's final acts before leaving office was to order the Texas National Guard to the border, supposedly to help with stopping illegal immigrants from crossing the border. But crossings were in decline before the troops arrived. The real reason for this expensive buildup, as we all know, was to bolster Perry's bona fides as a presidential contender.

The program has been incredibly costly both to Texas taxpayers and the men and women called away from their families and jobs to do the patrolling. Beyond those factors is the fact there is no proof the surge has done any good. The Legislature's own committee that makes budget recommendations recently looked at the situation and concluded Texas lacks a clear definition of border security and isn't adequately tracking whether it's making progress.

Now, without even knowing if what we've already done is working, lawmakers are talking about throwing more millions at the border. That's money that could be used to help our public education system, or improve roads, or secure better water futures, or help fund higher education or ... name one of a dozen other state needs going unmet.

Measures now under consideration in the Legislature could put Texas on the hook to spend as much as $400 million a year during the next budget cycle, about twice current costs.

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott so far has declined even to commit to a timeline for ending the National Guard's mission at the border as the state hires hundreds more state troopers to take their place. We believe his reason is simple: Abbott's worried about riling the right side of his base if he doesn't talk tough.

That has to be a bit worrisome, especially when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is further to the right than Abbott and probably wants to be governor someday. The political equation becomes complicated.

So we understand Abbott's reluctance to do the right thing and let the troops go home, but at the end of the day politics must come second to what's best for the state. Without even knowing what's working, that's a difficult call to make.

Abbott's campaign convinced us he was capable of making just such tough decisions. Now we ask that he live up to what he promised. The governor should demand a solid accounting of the surge's results and lead the state to a decision informed by fact, not emotions — or politics.

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