FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott threatened Tuesday to block cities from raising property tax rates if they defund their police departments, taking aim at Austin officials who cut their police budget by a third last week and shifted the money to social programs.
Abbott was joined at a press conference in Fort Worth by Mayor Betsy Price, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, all fellow Republicans. The governor said the proposed legislation will be an “effective tool” in deterring other Texas cities from cutting police budgets. He said defunding the police puts Texans in danger and invites lawlessness.
“Any city that defunds police departments will have its property tax revenue frozen at the current level,” Abbott told reporters. “They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again if they defund police.”
Abbott’s threat comes one week after the 10-member Austin City Council unanimously voted to reduce the police department’s budget by $150 million through 2021, with the money being moved to programs for mental health and drug addiction. The money will be partially raised through elimination of unfilled police jobs and academy cadet classes.
Calls for police reform and budget cuts for police departments have grown after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25. In June, New York City officials slashed $1 billion from the police department’s budget for the coming fiscal year.
Abbott repeated his calls for more police training in lieu of cutting police budgets, saying “we don’t need fewer police, we need less police brutality” – a position that has largely echoed the wishes of police unions.
“We need to take action to ensure that law enforcement officers are trained in ways in which they will not engage in police brutality,” he said.
Austin City Council member Greg Casar quickly panned Abbott’s threat, stating “a group off all-white members” of state leadership “attacked” the Black Lives Matter movement.
“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.”
Casar implied Abbott is a hypocrite, stating the governor recently requested a 4% cut to the budget of the Texas Department of Public Safety, “which amounts to $50 million – more than double that of Austin’s own immediate reallocation last week.”
Austin Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza dismissed Abbott’s announcement as “staged political theater” that the “country is getting really tired” of.
“Policing is not the same thing as public safety, especially when we see continued and growing racial disparities in who gets targeted more often for arrests and searches,” she said in a statement. “If the governor really cared about public safety, he would expand Medicaid; he would invest in our childcare infrastructure that is crumbling right before our eyes; he would have mandated masks earlier in this pandemic.”
Speaker Bonnen quickly fired back, tweeting that Austin Mayor Steve Adler is “one of the most egregious and recent offenders of this political theater.” He accused Adler of using police as a “political prop to fit whatever narrative you are trying to peddle from year to year.”