EDINBURG, RGV – Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas has asked the Texas Border Coalition if it can help get back from the federal government the $50 million the county spent on the border levee-wall combo project.
At a recent county commissioners’ court meeting, Salinas asked TBC consultant Billy Moore about recouping the money. Moore said he and other TBC consultants were working on it.
“It’s something that the Coalition did at your request,” Moore told Salinas.
“I remember when we met in El Paso and you first had the proposal for the levee wall, we endorsed that as soon as you finished talking. I believe it was six months later when you explained what happened on the funding, and then we passed a resolution supporting that.”
Moore said the next funding cycle in Washington, D.C. begins soon.
“I think (securing the $50 million) is a priority. We are going to need a lot of help from the other members of the Texas Border Coalition. To be able to get just one congressman is not going to cut it, we are going to need all five from the border region, both senators and a number of others we have been working with on border security issues to get that $50 million back.”
Ordinarily, both building border fences and repairing levees along the Rio Grande is a federal responsibility. However, Hidalgo County commissioners offered to help fund the levee-wall combo on the understanding that the federal government would pay the money back. The county was adamant it did not want a border wall and so struck a deal with then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in early 2008. The county used bond money that taxpayers had approved for drainage repairs.
Securing funding for the levee-wall combo is just one of the projects Moore, on behalf of TBC, is working on.
Moore, a partner with ViaNovo, a consultancy group based in Washington D.C., has been busy this summer traveling up and down the border region. His says his work is two-fold – to find out what the border communities need from TBC and to explain what the group has been doing this past year.
“We thought it was important, halfway through the year, to come before full government bodies on the border region to give them a report of what we were able to get done in the Texas Legislature and in Congress during the first year of the Obama Administration,” Moore said.
“We work very closely with county officials like Judge JD Salinas and his staff on a weekly basis and others like Mayor Richard Cortez on behalf of McAllen. We have been meeting with mayors and city commissioners, and we will continue to do that to make sure that folks understand that while everyone might not be able to participate in the decisions of the TBC, that we meet weekly. We want to make sure they know what we are doing, listen to their concerns and get information on what they think our priorities need to be.”
Moore told the Rio Grande Guardian of some of the top projects he has been working on.
“We have been active in getting legislation introduced and passed. In the House, with Congressman Charlie Gonzalez, before the end of this month and into September, we want to expand NADBank and to free the restrictions in order to fund more types of projects and access more capital at favorable rates,” Moore said.
Another project Moore is working on for TBC is partnering with the Rio Grande Institute on a study the institute has just completed for the U.S. Department of State on disaster, pre-mitigation and hazard mitigation projects on both sides of the border. “They have asked us to take on the legislative role of putting together a package they need to pass,” he said.
Moore said TBC played an active role in the 81st legislature. He said he is particularly pleased with increased the funding for adult education lawmakers approved. He said more resources are needed along the border.
“It’s something the TBC carried through the legislature, it’s one of the items we got enacted and one of the items where we were supportive. It wasn’t necessarily our bill, but we carried through to enactment that we carried through to nursing education.”
Another success story, Moore said, was helping to defeat a number of anti-immigrant bills for the second session in a row.
“We look at a lot of states in the south and southwest that have been passing a lot of anti-immigrant stuff. We have been able to beat it in Austin with an expansion of CHIP and an expansion of Head Start,” Moore said.
After visiting El Paso and the Mid Border region, Moore said he would be back in the Rio Grande Valley at the beginning of August for more meetings with elected officials.
“We couldn’t schedule everyone all at once. Twice a year, we go through the process of developing our priorities and coming up with an action plan and trying to set goals that we can use to measure how well we have done with our agenda. That is something we are going to do with the executive committee over the next several weeks,” Moore said.