FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) — Governor Greg Abbott took aim at cities considering defunding police departments, proposing any cities taking action would also face a freeze in property tax revenues.
The proposal, announced in Fort Worth Tuesday, followed a decision by the Austin city council to cut its police department budget by about one-third and move the money to social services.
In pushing back against the cuts, Abbott said efforts to reduce law enforcement would lead to chaos in communities that he wouldn’t allow.
“Cities that endanger residents by reducing law enforcement should not then be able to turn around and go back and get more property tax dollars from those same residents whose lives the city just endangered,” he said.
The Governor was joined by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price for the announcement, in a city he said is “doing it right.”
Fort Worth voters last month approved the extension of an additional tax for a crime control and prevention fund.
Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus has proposed a budget plan for that fund that would shift money away from enforcement initiatives, and over to prevention programs. Under the proposal the department would spend an additional $4.5 million of the fund on prevention efforts next year.
“We support the enhanced funding for public safety, for training,” Price said. “We do understand the concerns in the community of relationships with our police department. Chief Kraus and his team, as well as council, are working on those community relations, but we will not defund our police to solve those issues.”
Austin’s city council voted to move $21 million to fund local social services and community resources — including response to the coronavirus, mental health aid programs, violence prevention, victim services and food, housing and abortion access. Another $80 million is set to be redistributed to similar city services, and $49 million will be spent on the Austin Reimagine Safety Fund, which aims to provide alternative forms of public safety and community support besides policing.
During the Fort Worth press conference Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, “When I think about what Austin has done… had any other mayor of any other city in Texas been as irresponsible as they have been they would have chaos and their citizens would be in danger. It is only because of our DPS force of state troopers, hundreds that came to the aid and recuse of APD, that Austin didn’t turn into a potential Seattle or Portland.”
Patrick said he hopes the legislation, in it’s final form, will roll back the reallocation of funds that are set to take place in Austin in October.
Texas’ four largest cities — Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — each spent more than a third of their general funds on their police departments in the 2020 fiscal year.
In response to the Fort Worth press conference, Texas Democrats released a statement saying that amidst the state reaching 10,000 deaths, the governor was trying to distract his lack of positive leadership during the pandemic.
The statement read, in part —
“Greg Abbott’s distraction doesn’t take away from his mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. Because of [President] Trump and Abbott’s failures, 500,000 Texans have contracted the virus and more than 10,000 Texans are dead. It never had to be this way. If Donald Trump and Greg Abbott were really focused on safety for our families, they would have listened to doctors and scientists instead of lobbyists and donors.”