RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar says he has looked into ways of bypassing Austin so that federal funds can go straight from Washington, D.C., to the South Texas border region.

Cuellar said he and others looked into the feasibility of such a maneuver after the state leadership in Austin kept funds back that should have been going to counties in his congressional district.

“We tried so hard to do that (bypass Austin),” Cuellar said. “Whereby it (federal funding ) would come through a CDBG formula directly to the counties but unfortunately we could not get that.”

CDBG stands for Community Development Block Grants.

“There are states like to Texas that are controlled by Republicans where we have that concern (of netting get our fair share of federal funds),” Cuellar said. “But, there are (Democratic controlled) states like New York and California where they said, no, we want it to come directly to our state so we can distribute it. We were trying to do that (bypass Austin) very, very hard.”

Cuellar explained why he looked into ways of bypassing Austin.

“My concern is what I saw in 2010, 2009, where we did the shovel ready projects. Every single Republican in the House and Senate voted no. We voted yes. It went to Austin, we had difficulties bringing those monies (to the South Texas border).”

Cuellar made his remarks in a follow up question from the Rio Grande Guardian following a news conference held to announce $2.4 million in federal funds to repair and restore the Starr County Courthouse. 

During his remarks, Cuellar spoke at length about a $1.3 trillion transportation infrastructure bill that will be voted on in Congress on Sept. 27. The bill includes funding for highways, bridges, broadband, and water services.

Cuellar said $30 billion of the $1.3 trillion would go to Texas. If approved by the House, Cuellar said, the bill will go straight to President Biden’s desk for signature. 

“I will say this very gently. There are some folks of another party that probably will vote no on the bill on the 27th. And some of us will take the hard votes and vote yes. And then, when the money goes down to the state, one other party controls that and we have got to make sure that we work with our district engineer, Pete, and make sure we work with the Texas Department of Transportation, to make sure we get our fair share.”

The “Pete” Cuellar was referring to is Pete Alvarez, Pharr district engineer for TxDOT.

Cuellar said he has experience of the state leadership in Austin not passing along funds that should have gone to the border region.

“I saw that about ten years ago when we had the shovel-ready projects. Everybody on the other side voted no, the Democrats voted yes and then when they went to Austin the monies were going to Republican controlled (areas of the state),” Cuellar said.

“I say this very gently, because I certainly want to be as bipartisan (as possible). But I want to make sure the money comes to Starr County, make sure the money comes to Zapata, and Hidalgo and, of course, the rest of my congressional district.”

Cuellar was joined at the news conference by Starr County Judge Eloy Vera and Starr County Commissioners Raul “Roy” Peña, III, and Jose F. ‘Kiko’ Perez, Jr.

“Judge and commissioners, we have got a lot of work (to do), we have got to make sure we start talking to the Texas Department of Transportation, because $30 billion is an historic amount (of money). The $1.3 trillion will create two million jobs a year for the next ten years. It is a lot of money that will be coming in across the nation but especially to the state of Texas. So, we have got a lot of work to do. I am excited because I think this will help us with broadband, with the water projects.”

Cuellar added: “We have got to make sure we take advantage of these monies.”

Another speaker at the news conference was Roel Ruben Gomez, area director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is helping fund the Starr County Courthouse repairs.

After the news conference, the Rio Grande Guardian asked Cuellar to elaborate on his point that state leaders could not be trusted to pass on federal funds to the border region. 

“I did make a phone call to Bruce Buggs, who is the chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, and I said, hey, Mr. Chairman, I want you to just note that some of us are taking very tough votes and then I want to make sure you treat my congressional district in South Texas in a fair way. So, we are going to be following up on that,” Cuellar said.

“We still have to work with our state Senator, with our state Rep. Ryan Guillen, because when that money goes in, on the Senate side, both senators (John Cornyn and Ted Cruz) voted no. On the House said, on Sept. 27, I can almost tell you 99 percent that all Republicans are going to vote no, but when it goes to the Republican controlled Texas Department of Transportation, I said, with all due respects, I worry about politics there.”

Cuellar said he has painful experience of the border region missing out on federal dollars it should have received.  

“I have seen this rodeo before and I don’t want this to happen. So, we have got to make sure that we get it because $30 billion to the state of Texas, that is a lot of money. The state legislature is looking at almost $15 closer to $16 billion that they have left over from the Cares Act and all the relief package. All this extra money that they should have spent when we had the pandemic, and we still have the pandemic, but I hope that they use that,” Cuellar said. 

“So, the state of Texas is seeing monies they have never seen before. All I want is a non-political distribution of dollars where the needs are, Starr County, Zapata, Hidalgo, the border areas. That is all I am asking, a fair distribution and don’t use other methods (to distribute the funds).”

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