By Ed Sterling
Gov. Greg Abbott on April 4 welcomed the announcement by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen that the federal government would deploy some 4,000 National Guard personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist in stemming the flow of illegal immigration.
“Today’s action by the Trump Administration reinforces Texas’ longstanding commitment to secure our southern border and uphold the rule of law and I welcome the support,” the governor said. “Going forward, Texas will continue to implement robust border security efforts and this partnership will help ensure we are doing everything we can to stem the flow of illegal immigration.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said using the National Guard in a supportive role “is a commonsense way to temporarily assist law enforcement along the border. It’s critical that the Administration continue to work in close consultation with state and community leaders to ensure the border region can remain safe and prosperous.”
Cornyn noted that the decision to deploy troops is consistent with actions taken by President Obama in 2010 and President George W. Bush in 2006.
But state Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, reacted differently. “Trump’s deployment of the National Guard to our border communities is unjustified, irresponsible and dangerous,” Blanco said. “In 2017, apprehensions for illegal border crossing hit a 46-year low — a 23.4 percent drop from 2016. Some of our border communities, such as El Paso, are consistently ranked as some of the safest communities in the country.”
State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, also questioned the deployment.
“The President and other Republicans have manipulated the fears of Americans, many of whom know very little about life on the border, into a potent political weapon,” Rodriguez said. “In his latest anti-immigrant action, Mr. Trump proposes to use the U.S. military as actors and the border as a stage to create electoral theatre in hopes of appeasing his political base.”
Miller asks for workers
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on April 4 asked the federal government to allow an increase in temporary workers to help meet the Lone Star State’s need for labor in various agricultural sectors and in the Gulf shrimp industry.
Miller wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta requesting action. “Currently, many agricultural and related entities are making final decisions on this season’s production efforts. Your action on this matter will determine the economic success of many of these businesses and the jobs they create,” Miller wrote.
“As commissioner of agriculture for the state of Texas, I am encouraging the Trump administration to take immediate action and open the petition process under the H-2B Nonimmigrant Temporary Worker Program. This is critical for our agricultural economy, as well as the small and seasonal businesses that rely on the temporary workers provided through the H-2B program in Texas,” Miller added.
Currently, the H-2B program allows U.S. employers, after meeting certain criteria, to bring foreign workers to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs.
Pensions face shortfalls
The two funds that provide retirement benefits and healthcare to public school teachers and other state employees may need reforms to maintain solvency in the future, according to members attending an April 4 hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee.
“It’s just a cold, hard fact that we can’t keep doing things the way we’re doing it,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said of funding strategies for the Teachers Retirement System and Employees Retirement System. “We can’t keep going down this path.”
Over the last 20 years, Nelson said, investments have only returned about 7 percent and the gap between anticipated and actual returns is where potential unfunded liabilities arise. The board of the Teachers Retirement System will meet on April 20, expecting to decide whether to make adjustments based on the how much the fund is earning.
Tax revenue increases
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on April 3 said state sales tax revenue totaled $2.4 billion in March, 7.2 percent more than in March 2017.
Sales tax revenue rose for almost all major economic sectors, indicating growth in both business and consumer spending, Hegar said.
Receipts from the oil and gas mining, construction and manufacturing sectors, as well as retail trade and restaurants, were up, while receipts from the information sector were slightly down from a year ago, he added.
Ed Sterling is director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association.