Gov. Greg Abbott said Aug. 18 he will freeze cities' abilities to increase property taxes at the current level in response to cities making cuts to police department funding, just days after Austin City Council approved a budget that will cut police funding by one third and reinvest the money in social services.
"They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again if they defund police," Abbott said. "Cities that endanger residents by reducing law enforcement should not be able to turn around ... and get more property tax dollars."
Abbott's press conference was held in Fort Worth with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen in Fort Worth on Aug. 18.
Abbott, Patrick and Bonnen were joined by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Republican state Sens. Jane Nelson and Kelly Hancock, and Republican state Reps. Charlie Geren, Craig Goldman, Stephanie Klick and Giovanni Capriglione.
Texas leaders said they will push the proposal in the 2021 Texas Legislature.
"If we have police brutality, we don't need fewer police—we need less police brutality. And so we need to take action, whether it be as a Legislature or in police departments or whatever the case may be," Abbott said. "We do need to take action to ensure that law enforcement officers are trained in ways in which they will not engage in police brutality."
Texas’ four largest cities—Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio—each spent more than a third of their respective general funds on their respective police departments in fiscal year 2019-20, according to a Texas Tribune article posted Aug. 13.
About $21.5 million of the roughly $150 million cut from the Austin Police Department will be reallocated into community programs, such as bolstering EMS response, mental health crisis intervention and permanent supportive housing, all of which council members said will enhance public safety.
Austin is the first major Texas city to take action since police reform advocates have been pushing for reallocation police funds in recent months.
This decision came after months of criticism over the killing of Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black and Hispanic man, by APD officers; police using force on protesters demonstrating against police brutality; and the investigation of one demonstrator's fatal shooting by another citizen.
Another $79.6 million was separated in the form of functions such as the forensics lab, 911 dispatch and internal affairs. City of Austin staffers are to officially separate them into independent departments by the end of FY 2020-21. The essence of these operations will remain the same, but they will no longer report to the police chief. They are a cut to the police budget, but not a cut to the functions themselves, council said.
Abbott characterized Austin's decision as irresponsible and commended officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety for stepping in to help the city during widespread Black Lives Matter protests. He further praised DPS troopers and stated his belief that they kept the situation in Austin from escalating to the same level as in Seattle or Portland.
"Not only has Austin defunded their police, but they have taken away vital weapons that they could use to disperse crowds," Abbott said. "What they have done in Austin should never happen in any city in the state, and we are going to pass legislation to be sure it never happens again, and I hope that legislation, in its final form, will roll back what they have done."
In Houston, City Council members unanimously approved the budget as proposed in June, which included a $20 million increase for the Houston Police Department over last year’s budget.
That came after the failure of Council Member Letitia Plummer's amendment, which aimed to redistribute some of the money to other areas, including mental health programs and loans for businesses owned by people of color.
The vote came after Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that he will be launching a task force focusing on police accountability and transparency, according to a Texas Tribune article posted June 10.
In Fort Worth, voters supported renewing the half-cent sales tax that funds at least 24% of the city police department's budget in July, per The Texas Tribune.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said she understand the concerns in the community and the relationships with the police department and that city officials are working on those community relations.
"But we will not defund our police to solve those issues," Price said. "We will find sources to help with that."
Christopher Neely contributed to this report.
Gov. Greg Abbott says he will freeze cities' abilities to increase property tax revenue if they cut police funding
Gov. Greg Abbott announced a proposal Aug. 18 to keep cities from increasing property tax revenue if they decrease police department funding. (Screenshot of April 17 press conference)