AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Governor Greg Abbott blasted the Dallas council members Thursday, accusing them of defunding Dallas PD.
“The last thing they should do is defund law enforcement, and yet, that is exactly what the City of Austin has done, and that’s what Dallas City Council voted to do in announcing its own defunding scheme last night.”
The Governor’s criticism came as he, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton signed a pledge they said all candidates should sign: to Back the Blue and promise not to defund police departments.
It took place at the offices of the Austin Police Association.
That city council recently slashed $150 million from its police department.
On Wednesday, a majority of council members voted to cut $7 million from DPD’s overtime budget.
Next year’s proposed budget for the department, which starts October 1, is more than $516 million.
More than $2.6 million of the DPD overtime money would go to public safety.
It would allow the department to hire 50 civilian employees one year early and increase funding for improving lighting in high crime areas, a recommendation from Mayor Eric Johnson’s Task Force on Safer Communities.
Late Thursday afternoon, Council Member Lee Kleinman dismissed the Governor’s criticism saying it’s not about how many first responders a city has. “It’s about how safe your community is and that is what’s most important. Just throwing money at a police department doesn’t reduce crime. Dealing with some of the systemic problems in your city that create crime are ways to deal with crime.”
But Mike Mata, President of the Dallas Police Association, has previously said council members are playing a shell game because if officers work overtime, they will get paid.
He said the department will have to come back to the Council and request more money at a later date.
The rest of the overtime money from DPD would go to other programs, including street repairs, bike lanes, and increasing wages for part-time employees to $14 an hour.
Mayor Eric Johnson criticized the council’s decision.
In a statement released Thursday evening, Mayor Johnson said, “My amendment, Amendment 88, was the only one offered Wednesday that would have undone the $7 million cut to police overtime. The Dallas City Council, with the exception of Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn, rejected Amendment 88 outright, leaving us to vote in two weeks on a budget that defunds the police amid an unacceptable increase in violent crime. Unless that changes, I cannot support this budget.”
Asked for his definition of defunding the police, Governor Abbott said, “I define defunding as exactly what the City of Austin has done and exactly what the Dallas City Council voted to do last night.”
In response, Council Member Lee Kleinman said, “This has been typical of the Governor’s continuing campaign against municipalities and against local ideas and local control. Ironically, as much as the Governor would complain about federal interference with the way the states operate, he’s more than happy to interfere in how we’ve decided we want to operate.”
A final vote on the city’s budget will take place September 23.
During the news conference, the Governor also announced a new legislative proposal to discourage cities from defunding police departments.
If approved, cities that defund their law enforcement agencies would lose their annexation powers and residents in areas that were annexed by the city could vote to leave the city.
In Fort Worth last month, the Governor discussed another legislative proposal that would freeze property tax revenues for cities that defund their police departments.
In response, State Representative Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, who serves as the House Democratic Caucus Chair called the Governor’s news conference a political stunt.
“I oppose defunding the police period. Democrats oppose defunding the police period from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, two candidates running for the Texas State House. We oppose defunding the police. So Governor Abbott is manufacturing an issue as he typically does coming up on election.”
Turner said the Governor needs to remain focused on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and not interfere with cities. “I think if Greg Abbott is concerned about what the city of Austin is doing and their municipal budget, he should run for the Austin City Council. That’s his right to do that. But state leaders need to work on state issues.”
The Governor said public safety must remain a priority. “Our law enforcement officers have our backs every single day. We need to show them that Texans and their elected leaders have their backs, too.”
Gilberto Hinojosa, Chair of the Texas Democratic Party said, “Abbott’s pledge to defund cities that follow their values and prioritize local resources to better keep their communities safe essentially defunds the police. It’s nonsensical and a weak attempt to try to look tough in front of the cameras.”
Retired Lt. Colonel Allen West, Chair of the Texas Republican Party said, “We cannot let progressive radicals defund and dismantle police departments across the state. Governor Abbott and the entirety of the Texas Republican Party is committed to supporting the law enforcement community and the safety they provide.”