AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott says a second caravan of migrants, nearly 2,000 of them, who arrived at the Texas-Mexico border Monday, came for a reason: “One reason why we were informed Eagle Pass was chosen, is because there is no barrier there. It will be very easy for people to cross the border into the U.S. at their location. That must be resolved.”
The Governor said the U.S. should expand the border fence in Texas. “We know that border fencing-barriers-whatever you want to call it, works. We’ve seen it work. I’ve seen it with my own eyes work on the Texas border. America saw it work about a month or so ago on the border of California when the caravan got brought up to California and had to stop when they got to that fence. And so without that fence, that caravan would have come right over that border. It’s time for Congress to step up and do its job and start passing laws that start fixing a broken immigration system.”
Texas spends about $800 million over a two year period on its own border security efforts.
When asked if the state would need to continue spending that amount if Congress were to expand border fencing, the Governor said, “If Congress does its job and fixes a broken immigration system, and puts up sufficient protection to make sure we are able to maintain our sovereignty, then there would be no reason for Texas to come out of pocket and to do the federal government’s job. “We’re long waiting for the day we will no longer spend state taxpayer dollars to do that.”
Mr. Abbott made his comments during a wide-ranging interview Wednesday afternoon at the Governor’s Mansion that also included school finance and property tax reform, two of his top priorities during the 86th legislative session.
Among his emergency items, school finance reform.
State legislative leaders are still crafting bills to change the way the state pays for its public schools.
The Texas Comptroller’s Office said last month property taxes account for 64 percent of the funding for schools, while the remaining 36 percent consists of state revenues.
Just about everyone agrees the state needs to increase its revenues dedicated for public schools while reducing the amount of property taxes that are used.
The Governor said the state has enough money to fund new education programs, aside from enrollment growth, and provide property tax relief. “The way we’re starting out in our budget is allocating $3 billion for property tax reduction and allocating $3 billion for education programs.”
During an interview last month, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told CBS 11 both the Texas House and Senate would spend an extra $7 billion on public schools during the 2020-21 budget.
When asked if he’s comfortable with that, the Governor said, “I am. I think we can achieve it all. When it comes to budgetary items, it’s a starting point. I would not be surprised if it does add up to $7 billion. But listen, we can do it.”
The Texas economy is booming now, but if and when there is a downturn, the Governor said he wants to avoid the deep budget cuts, like the $5.4 billion to education, in 2011.
“We’re very aware of the need to avoid any budget cuts from what we promise and provide, and so we set up revenue streams, we’ll probably create a buffer in those revenue streams so that in the event of the eventual downturn, which will inevitably come, we will not be taking money away from teachers and education programs we will have funded.”
During his address Tuesday, the Governor also declared school safety an emergency item, which would allow lawmakers to consider it more quickly than other bills.
He said it’s important for lawmakers to provide funding to school districts.
“It’s essential and we’re going to be doing it. We’ll be funding several things. One will be broadly characterized as hardening. I think it should be up to each school to decide what’s best for them. Some may want metal detectors. Some say it’s the worst thing that could happen. We need to find out what they need and provide resources to help them with their needs. Also, we need to add some mental health counselors in our school and we have the resources to do that.”
He prefers expanding a program in the Dallas ISD that recognizes good teachers who improve students’ academic performance.
Mr. Abbott said, “I mentioned DISD several times in several of my speeches including my inaugural address where you had a school that was ranked 132nd elementary schools in Dallas that now ranks second, and it’s because of the strategies where you put the best teachers into the most challenged classrooms and it proved no matter what zip code you’re in, doesn’t matter what the demographic background is, you can help students succeed if you give them good teachers.”
But Lt. Governor Patrick told CBS 11 he favors giving every teacher a $5,000 pay raise this fall, and another $5,000 pay raise the following year.
Governor Abbott downplayed any differences.
“That’s what a session is all about. That’s for everyone to come to the table and bring all these different strategies to the table and find the best tools and methods we can to make sure we’re providing the best education possible for our kids.”
On Wednesday, the State Senate held a hearing on another priority of the Governor’s: property tax reform, which he said is designed to limit the increases homeowners across the state have felt.
Last week, in an unprecedented move, the House and Senate proposed the same bills, HB 2 and SB2.
Under the proposed legislation, local governments wouldn’t be able to increase property tax revenues by more than 2.5 percent over the year before without first getting approval by voters.
The Texas Comptroller’s Office provided new information for the hearing.
It said if the bills become law, counties across the state could lose nearly $3 billion in potential funding while cities across the state could potentially lose more than $3 billion in potential funding.
Governor Abbott said, “When you think the way it’s structured, is it builds in a 2.5 percent increase in the amount they’ve been able to raise and spend every year. A lot of their constituents will say they wish they get a 2.5 percent pay raise every year, so the truth is local governments have been growing a whole lot faster than the average paycheck in Texas.”
Many county commissioners and mayors across the state have criticized the plan saying it would make it very difficult to operate, and many Texas Democrats agree and question how much property owners would really save.
But the Governor said property tax reform is an issue important to both Republicans and Democrats. “That’s the beauty of this session. We’re talking about issues that everyone agrees on and will coalesce around.”
WATCH JACK’S ENTIRE INTERVIEW WITH GOVERNOR ABBOTT BELOW: