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Texas counties say Abbott cutting police funds while threatening them if they do the same


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a recent news conference. - COURTESY PHOTO / OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
  • Courtesy Photo / Office of the Governor
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a recent news conference.
Despite recent threats to financially punish municipalities that reduce police funding, Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered up state budget cuts that are effectively doing the same thing, leaders of several Texas counties say.

Dallas and Tarrant county officials told the Dallas Morning News that faced with reduced state grants long used to shore up sheriffs' departments, jails and courts, they’ll be forced to make public safety cuts or raise taxes.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told the Current that the San Antonio area faces similar pressure.

That strain comes as Abbott has publicly pushed for tax penalties for cities and counties that take a scalpel to their police budgets amid their own budget constraints and calls to shift law enforcement funding into social programs.

"The whole thing with the governor is just hypocrisy," Wolff said. "It's a bundle of lies."

Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — all Republicans — proposed a 5% state budget cut across state agencies as the pandemic takes its toll on the economy. That comes as municipalities already face spending caps ordered by the governor, said Wolff, a Democrat.

The latest wrinkle came last month after the city of Austin voted to move a chunk of its law-enforcement budget into social programs under pressure from police-accountability activists. In response, Abbott held a press conference announcing he’ll back a proposal during the 2021 legislative session to permanently freeze property taxes for municipalities that cut police funding.

“The governor is threatening to freeze city and county revenues while simultaneously demanding 5% cuts at the state level,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, told the Morning News. “How is that not defunding police? My question is whether the governor is committed to keeping those grants. If he won’t, will he support property tax increases so we don’t defund the police — so that he doesn’t defund the police?”

'Top priority'

In a statement supplied to the Morning News, an Abbott spokeswoman said the concern over the state's law-enforcement funding cuts was overblown.

“The government’s top priority must always be the health and safety of our communities,” said Nan Tolson of the governor's press office. “That is why Gov. Abbott and leaders of the Legislature have instructed all agencies to ensure public health and safety are not compromised by any proposed budget reductions.”

Apparently, that's not much of an assurance for Republican Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who warned that the state's public-safety belt tightening could leave his county on the hook for an additional $42 million.

“My frustration is he’s spending a lot of time and effort talking about things he can’t accomplish and telling local elected officials how to represent their folks," Whitley told the Morning News. "He could be giving money to those local governments to help small businesses hurt by the shutdown."

Diversionary tactic

The Texas Democratic Party says Abbott's recent tough talk on police funding is an effort to divert attention away from his sagging poll numbers and inability to safety reopen the state during the pandemic.

“After weeks of railing against defunding the police and trying to distract from his failed response to the coronavirus pandemic, Greg Abbott’s budget proposal has forced a defunding of the police itself," Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Abhi Rahman said in an emailed statement. "Abbott has no room to talk about the safety of our police officers or the safety of our community."

Bexar County's Wolff said Texas Republicans have long called for smaller government and advocated for local control. However, he said Abbott's efforts to punish Democrat-controlled municipalities show that to be empty rhetoric.

"They rant and rave about how the federal government should leave us alone and take its hands off, but once they get into power, they do the same thing," he said.

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