Governor Abbott to cities: Defund the police and we'll freeze property taxes

Texas Governor Abbott and other top Republican state leadership caused some waves Tuesday over a proposal to stop cities from defunding police departments – they want to freeze that city’s ability to raise property taxes.

The hot trend to defund the police is not sitting well with law and order conservatives and that includes Governor Abbott. Austin City Council voted to defund the Austin Police Department by a substantial amount of money a few days ago and Governor Abbott is looking to nip this trend in the bud. Tuesday he and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, along with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced the proposal. All are Republicans. The men have a legislative proposal – any city that votes to defund police will lose their ability to raise property taxes. Governor Abbott intends to hit the cities where it hurts – in the pocketbook.

“Any city that defunds police departments will have its property tax revenue frozen at the current level,” Abbott said, flanked by the other two Republican members of the “Big Three” in Texas state government. “They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again if they defund police.”

“What they have done in Austin should never happen in any city in the state, and we’re going to pass legislation to be sure it never happens again,” Patrick said.

Bonnen told Hearst Newspapers that the proposed legislation is intended to target any kind of police budget reduction.

“All local governments that cut or shift funding from their police departments will be prohibited from raising property taxes,” Bonnen said in an email. “This proposal will disincentivize cities like Austin from compromising the safety of residents and stop them from using our law enforcement as a political prop.”

Right now the proposal is all talk because the state legislature, which is not in session this year, has to vote on such legislation. The governor can’t just sign a piece of paper to make this happen. It is a bold move, though, and certainly makes the message clear that defunding the police is not the way to go in large Texas cities. None of the three men put forth any clarification on the proposed legislation which will have to be worked out when the state legislature comes back into session in 2021. That is assuming that Republicans keep control of the Texas House and Senate. Democrats, led by Beto O’Rourke, are making a strong push to take control of the Texas legislature. After the 2018 election cycle, Republicans retained trifecta control of the Texas state government. Republicans established trifecta control in 2003. There are 150 seats in the House and Republicans control the House 83-67. The Texas Senate has 31 seats. Republicans control the Senate 19-12. I don’t think that the Democrats will make much headway in trying to wrestle back control of either chamber. If Abbott wants a property tax freeze, he’ll likely get it in 2021.

As I said, Austin City Council voted – unanimously – to defund the police. In Austin’s case, the money will remain in the city’s coffers but one-third of the police budget will be moved to something called the Decouple and Reimagine Safety funds. It sounds like a liberal social experiment in the making. While sending a social worker to a domestic disturbance call may serve a purpose to help calm the situation down, the woman or man being abused will likely need a police officer to get the situation under control and remove the abusive person. That’s just one example of a possibility that will likely arise. Social workers cannot replace police, no matter how touchy-feely the left wants life to be.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar said the council’s intent was to lessen the burden on police to handle social issues, such as homelessness, domestic violence and mental health, and spread it out to other departments with more bandwith.

“The message from the tens of thousands of Austinites who made their voices heard in this year’s budget process was clear: We must decrease our over-reliance on police to handle all of our complex public safety challenges and instead reinvest in domestic violence shelters, mental health first responders, and more,” Casar said in a statement. “That’s what our City Council did — and it’s exactly the work we’re committed to continue.”

Good luck with that, buddy. Austin has a growing homelessness problem and it is breeding violence and destruction to parts of the city. The Democrat mayor is feckless and more concerned about appeasing social justice warriors than maintaining public safety.

Activists in Houston and in San Antonio are trying to defund police, too. So far, their efforts have not been successful.

In San Antonio, the city council has proposed an $8 million increase to the police budget, but also moved some domestic violence prevention employees from the police department to the city health department, cut police overtime by about $3 million and added about $1 million in new spending on homelessness and mental health outreach.

Similarly, the Houston City Council in June voted to up its police budget by about $20 million, rejecting an effort to redirect $12 million to police reform efforts and other measures, such as giving the police oversight board investigative powers and offering no-interest loans to minority-owned businesses.

Republicans passed priority legislation in 2019 which requires many cities, counties and other taxing entities to hold an election if they want to raise 3.5 percent more property tax revenue than the previous year. Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, which decides tax policy for the state, are calling Abbott’s proposal nonsensical. To me, a city without enough police protection is nonsensical. And dangerous.