AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Calls for an unprecedented Texas border security spending spree to buy spy planes, 500 more state troopers and a 10-acre training base near Mexico came under heavy bipartisan scrutiny Wednesday in a show of frustration with a priority of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
Tense questioning by powerful Senate budget writers, however, fell short of resistance toward doubling border security funding to more than $815 million over the next two years - or opposition to what Abbott has made a defining issue in the early stages of his administration.
But Democrats and some Republicans are revealing irritation with a skyrocketing tab and a sense that nearly $1 billion already spent on the Texas-Mexico border since 2008 has lacked accountability. State leaders and the Department of Public Safety have claimed success when apprehensions both rise and fall and without ever defining the long-stated goal of a secure border.
Border security was a major issue among GOP voters last year, but some Republicans want better metrics attached to more money.
"I don't care what it polls," Republican state Sen. Kevin Eltife said. "Christmas polls well in my house, but I make sure what I spend is in my budget."
Arguably no spending in the proposed $205 billion Senate budget is more eye-popping than the hike in border security funding. The money would indefinitely extend the mission of the Texas National Guard on the border, boost manpower and give $500 monthly stipends to troopers stationed in the Rio Grande Valley.
DPS Director Steve McCraw told the Senate Finance Committee that replacing the Guard with troopers would put the state on a path toward declaring the border secure and emphasized the impact of high-tech cameras and $5 million surveillance planes.
PERRY LEGAL TEAM AGAIN WANTS CASE AGAINST HIM QUASHED
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's legal team again argued Monday that felony abuse-of-power charges against their client should be tossed, saying that a special prosecutor's attempts to modify the original indictment seek to "substitute his own version of the facts."
Perry was indicted in August on charges stemming from a 2013 veto of state funding for a public corruption division within the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Special prosecutor Michael McCrum earlier this month modified a charge of coercion of a public servant in response to an order by judge overseeing the case, Republican Bert Richardson.
In 30 pages of filings Monday, Austin attorney David Botsford states that McCrum "should not be allowed to take inconsistent positions and insert facts not found by a grand jury into an indictment."
The filing also says that if it's allowed to stand, another charge Perry faces, abuse of official capacity, should be converted to a misdemeanor. That's because, the filings argue, the case centers on the veto, not the state funding. It therefore had no monetary value - and any action worth less than $20 doesn't constitute a felony in Texas.
The charges Perry faces combined carry a maximum penalty of 109 years in prison.
Richardson refused the defense team's prior string of motions to have the case dismissed on constitutional and technical grounds, but he suggested last month that McCrum should clarify the coercion charge.
Perry's attorneys responded to the modified count Monday by saying McCrum's fixes were "woefully deficient." They argued that with the new language, McCrum attempts "to substitute his own version of the facts" and yet still fails to accuse Perry of a crime.
The filing goes on to argue that the special prosecutor never established sufficient grounds for either count, and therefore the entire case should be thrown out.
OFFICIALS SAY RULES CHANGES HAVE INCREASED FRACKING WATER RECYCLING - BUT BY HOW MUCH IS UNCLEAR
Texas' three railroad commissioners say that oil and gas operators statewide are recycling more water than ever before, thanks to a change in state rules.
But exactly how much water is being conserved or reused during oil and gas production is unknown. That's particularly true for fracking - a process by which oil and gas is extracted from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water and other substances.
Commission Chairwoman Christi Craddick told members of two House committees Monday that her organization is dependent on companies to self-report that information. She added that there was no target set for water recycling when the rule was adopted in 2013.
But Craddick also maintained, "If companies are allowed to be innovative, they usually go above and beyond."
The House starts work at 10 a.m. Tuesday and the Senate is in an hour later. Both chambers continue to crank through committee meetings, with Senate Finance and the House Public Education and Homeland Security and Public Safety panels all convening.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"My dad was one of those Marines. I just couldn't let today get by without calling this body to attention in their memory, because we owe those marines a huge debt of gratitude," a tearful state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, who reminded the Texas House that Monday was the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
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