Texas border cities receiving more sales tax revenue from state, but still hurting from travel restrictions

Border Report

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Border cities in Texas, along with many cities throughout the Lone Star State, are getting an increase in sales tax allocations from the state comptroller this month due to an uptick in local sales. But border leaders say travel restrictions with Mexico continue to hurt border economies.

The Texas Comptroller announced that statewide $1.06 billion in local sales tax allocations would be given out — a 28% increase from May 2020, due to an uptick in sales revenue in March.

The West Texas border city of El Paso saw a 36% increase in sales tax revenue, making it the 9th highest in the state, while the South Texas border city of McAllen saw an increase of 41.5%, ranking it 14th for sales revenue statewide.

Other border cities sales revenue increases in March from the previous year included: Mercedes with 82%; Mission with 60%; Brownsville with 51%; Del Rio, Laredo and Weslaco with 44%; Progreso Lakes with 37%; Eagle Pass with 34%; Rio Grande City with 29%, and Roma with 22%.

But leaders in border cities say revenue could rebound much more if Title 42 travel restrictions were lifted. The public health order forbids non-essential cross border travel between the United States, Mexico and Canada at land ports of entry in order to help lower the spread of coronavirus.

Current restrictions are in place until Friday, and many border businesses and communities are pressuring the Biden administration to life the Trump-era restrictions to allow Mexican shoppers to come over and spend money in border towns.

Shops that are normally packed in the downtown border town of McAllen, Texas, are seen on Sept. 11, 2020, with just a few customers due to Title 42 border restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. (Border Report File Photo)

“American small businesses are facing economic challenges presented by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) prohibition on ‘non-essential’ cross-border travel. The yearlong halt to DHS discretionary travel at Land Ports of Entry has left local communities, across both the southern and northern U.S. borders, struggling to maintain their livelihoods and way of life. We must find a balance between the health of the individual and the health of the local economy,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from South Texas, wrote last month in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Cuellar has been advocating for a “community-based program” to allow various border towns to reopen to non-essential travelers if they feel COVID-19 rates are in check on their side, and south of the border.

In his letter, he suggests that all non-essential travelers be screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, and then again by local community partners upon arrival into the United States.

Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies on May 13 in front of the Senate Homeland Security. (Screenshot)

On Thursday, during testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Mayorkas gave no indication of when Title 42 restrictions might be lifted and emphasized that the restriction was issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), not DHS.

“I don’t have a timetable as I sit here today. The CDC looks at public health landscape in determining whether its authorities need to be continued,” Mayorkas said. “That falls within its jurisdiction.”

But he did say the restrictions were put in place to safeguard the health of all — on both sides of the border.

“Title 42 was put to protect the American public with respect to COVID-19 and the migrants themselves,” Mayorkas said.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling on Monday told Border Report that he doubted the Title 42 restrictions would be lifted this week.

“I don’t think it will be open this month because of politics in Washington on the whole immigration issues,” Darling said.

Darling is set to retire after a June 5 runoff election declares his successor.

During his April 28 State of the City address he said restrictions “have really hurt our merchants very much. And it’s based on health and yet we show no COVID tracing between the essential workers who go back and forth to Mexico. And so when you see your congressman, say ‘we need to have non-essential travel established’ so our friends, neighbors and business partners can come across the river.”

At the time, Darling boasted that the “city is 15th best sales tax collector, even with Title 42 restrictions in place.”

But the Comptroller’s figures, out last Wednesday, showed McAllen had moved up a notch, to claim the 14th rank with nearly $8 million in sales in March, up from $5.2 million the year prior when everyone went into lockdown.

El Paso took in nearly $11 million in sales during that time period, up from $8 million the year prior.

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