By Richard Lee
The Senate Finance Committee on Monday took up a bill that its author says will help the state understand the true cost in state funds of illegal immigration in Texas. Though the federal government is responsible for maintaining border security, its failure to secure the border is costing Texans millions, says Dallas Senator Don Huffines. The Legislature approved $800 million to pay for more troopers and more resources for border security last session, and the Senate version of the budget includes the same amount for the upcoming biennium.
Huffines says that his bill, SB 764, will help the state’s argument that Washington DC should pay Texas back. “When the federal government fails to protect the border, then the federal government should reimburse the state for its expenditures,” he said. “With this cost accounting Texas can better explain to the federal government the severity of the consequences of its failure of its responsibilities. ” His bill would require the Comptroller to tally and release each biennium the total cost to the state incurred by people not lawfully present in the US. It would also require that the report break out the specific costs for healthcare, education and incarceration of these individuals.
Some Senators opposed to the measure asked why the bill doesn’t include the benefit of undocumented immigrants to the state, such as labor and sales tax revenue. “You want a clear, concise picture, you need to look at the whole aspect of people who are in this state undocumented. Not only what it costs, but what they provide in terms of benefits to the economy,” said McAllen Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa. The bill passed the committee on a vote of 8-4 and will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
Also Monday, the conference committee on the state budget held its first hearing. This committee is comprised of five members from each chamber, and now the task is to reconcile the two versions of the state budget. They are relatively close in amount; the Senate would spend $217.7 billion in state and federal funds over the next two years compared to $218.1 billion for the House. There are differences in where that money goes, however, and the conference committee has until Memorial Day to present a compromise to both the House and Senate for approval. Representing the Senate on the committee are Finance Chair and Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson and Finance Vice-chair Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen. They are joined by Senators Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, Joan Huffman of Houston and Charles Schwertner of Georgetown. Nelson pointed out that eight of the ten members on this year’s budget conference committee served on the same committee last session. “You have a very strong , experienced team,” she said. “I am confident, members, that we can come to an agreement that will make Texas proud.”