Merritt’s $4-Million Pig Won’t Fly, Literally

A $4.3 million helicopter will have to be purchased by the Department of Public Safety and based in Longview under an amendment added, without a vote, to the House version of the state budget by Rep. Tommy Merritt (R-Longview). But it’s a bird that won’t take flight: no money for pilots or maintenance. This flightless bird isn’t just a taxpayer turkey, it’s an earth-bound porker.

Here’s the language Merritt pushed onto “Article V” of the state budget:
“Out of the funds collected under federal forfeiture programs… the amount of $4,284,032 is appropriated to the Department of Public Safety… for the purpose of purchasing one helicopter to be stationed in Longview.”

Merritt’s original amendment called for diverting “out of the state highway fund” … “the amount of $521,198 for the state fiscal year beginning Sept. 1, 2009, and $355,375 for the state fiscal year beginning September 1, 2010.”

On the House floor, Merritt changed the amendment to get rid of the highway fund diversions. While I’m glad he came to his senses about diverting scarce highway dollars to paying for helicopter pilots that may or may not be necessary, this raises an important question: If there isn’t the money to maintain or fly it, why should the helicopter be bought in the first place?

By the way, Merritt had a 38.5% rating on the Fiscal Responsibility Index last legislative session. Any wonder why?

That’s $4.3 million that could be used for legitimate law enforcement activities, rather than buying an over-sized paperweight for Tommy Merritt.

No doubt having a DPS-logo helicopter warehoused a few miles from Merritt’s house in Longview is a nice play-thing for an incumbent lawmaker, but it sure oinks like waste for Texas.