Politics

Gov. Abbott’s Border Wall Proposal Is More Political Than Practical, Experts Say

Gov. Greg Abbott said the state will open an online donation portal later this week to fund the wall, but political scientists and his critics question the timing.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference where he provided an update to Texas’ response to COVID-19, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

Updated Wednesday 6:11 p.m. CT

The state of Texas has allocated just over $1 billion for "border security" in its latest budget, and Gov. Greg Abbott said he plans to build a border wall in Texas as part of that strategy, while crowdfunding some of the costs.

But political scientists and the governor’s critics are skeptical of Abbott’s plan, saying it’s legally and financially improbable, and more likely spurred by his own bid for reelection and possible aspirations for a 2024 presidential run.

“If he’s going to try to win across the country, he needs to first win in his home state,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow with Rice University’s Baker Institute. “The announcement is what’s important, not actually constructing the wall.”

When then-President Donald Trump first announced that he would construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, he told taxpayers it would cost no more than $12 billion. Instead, reporting from the Texas Tribune found a quickly skyrocketing price tag, with contracts for parts of the wall costing billions more than projected.

State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said even if the entirety of the $1.1 billion in state funds was used on a proposed wall, the money wouldn't do much.

"The border wall, as far as the efforts under Trump have shown, is…going to cost something like $100 million a mile,” he said.

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The Texas-Mexico border is more than 1,200 miles in length, according to the state transportation department's website.

During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Abbott announced the state of Texas would solicit public donations to fund the project through the use of an online donation portal.

Abbott added the project would begin once a program manager was hired by the Texas Facilities Commission.

He also said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice would transfer $250 million from its general revenue fund to the governor’s office as a down payment for the project, according to a letter provided by the governor’s office.

A second letter, addressed to President Biden, demanded the return of any land taken by the federal government during its previous attempt to build the border wall under President Trump. If returned, Abbott said those property owners can voluntarily use it to help build the wall.

The governor rejected the notion that his plan was nothing more than "political theater."

"Anyone who thinks this is politics doesn’t have a clue what’s going on on the border,” Abbott told reporters. “Anyone who thinks this is politics doesn’t care about American citizens or Texas residents.”

It wouldn't be the first instance of crowdfunding for a proposed wall. In 2018, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon raised $25 million from private donors to do just that.

The Justice Department later found Bannon and others funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to themselves from the fund.

Abbott said the sole purpose for the money would be to pay for the construction of the border wall, and added that the donations would be deposited into a fund overseen by his office.

The move comes ahead of a potentially tough GOP primary for the incumbent governor. Former Texas state Sen. Don Huffines has already declared his candidacy, and others — including Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and former state GOP Chair Allen West — have also teased a run.

Even if the passage of $1.1 billion in border funding out of a nearly $250 billion budget doesn't do much to jumpstart wall construction, it's still likely to be something Republicans can run on when facing reelection, according to Joshua Blank from the University of Texans at Austin's Texas Politics Project.

"It's not exactly clear what all of this money does or how effective it is at actually reducing border crossings," Blank said. "It's more symbolic than anything else."

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