Fight brewing between Texas cities and state over funding, taxes

Since the death in May of Texas native George Floyd, there have been protests across Texas and the nation demanding police reform, including calls to “defund” police departments by redistributing funds to public safety programs and social service agencies.

Austin shifts police funding

In Austin, the city’s police department faces criticism on multiple fronts after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Black and Hispanic man, the use of force against people protesting police brutality and more. The capital’s city council responded by unanimously voting to redistribute about a third ($150 million) of its police department’s budget to civilian functions in city government, as well as community support programs, public safety programs and victim services.

Gov. Greg Abbot responded to the Austin counci’s move with a legislative proposal to freeze the property tax rates at current levels for Texas cities that “defund” police departments.

The governor’s vow

“They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again,” Abbott said, adding that the reallocation of funds “puts Texans in danger and invites lawlessness into our cities.” He said that cities that “defund” police departments “should not be able to turn around and raise more taxes from those same Texans.”

Speaker Dennis Bonnen said the state’s House of Representatives will approve the measure in its next session.

Officials in Austin and other cities criticized Abbott’s proposal, saying funding of local police departments and civilian services are city decisions that should be left to cities.

Thinking ahead

Municipalities contemplating similar redistribution of police department funding will now need to factor Abbott’s proposal into their decision-making process.

Municipalities facing law enforcement labor negotiations or disciplinary hearings involving police misconduct or internal affairs investigations might consider this issue and related matters.