Texas Comptroller Says Harris County Is Defunding Police, County Says It Isn’t

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(The Center Square)

In response to Gov. Abbott requesting the state comptroller evaluate Harris County’s budget to determine if it was violating state law prohibiting local entities from defunding police departments, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Friday that Texas’ largest county was defunding its police and he was imposing restrictions on it as a result. 

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said he “needed to go back to accounting class,” that she was fighting his ruling in court and that the county had actually increased funding. 

On Dec. 14, 2022, Gov. Abbott’s Criminal Justice division requested Hegar’s office to investigate a complaint from Constable Ted Heap of Harris County Constable Office Precinct 5, which alleged the county’s 2023 fiscal year adopted budget reduced the resources available to Precinct 5 by $2,367,444 compared to the previous year.

State law requires the comptroller’s office, when requested by the governor, to determine whether a county has implemented a proposed reduction or reallocation of law enforcement funding without the required voter approval. 

“After careful review, I found that the complaint provides evidence of a reduction of funding for a law enforcement agency when comparing the adopted budget for the current fiscal year to the adopted budget for the preceding fiscal year,” Hegar said.

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Heap alleged that Harris County’s budget reduced the overall funding for Precinct 5 by $2,367,444.86 when annualized on a month-to-month basis. The comptroller’s office said Harris County “will once again use a convoluted approach with two different multipliers and exclude two pay periods to argue otherwise, yet the math is clear and straightforward. The funding shortfall is $2,367,444.86.”

As a result, he ruled that “Harris County may not adopt an ad valorem tax rate that exceeds the county’s no-new-revenue tax rate until the earliest of the following: my office issues a written determination; the county has resolved the funding reduction; or the funding reduction has been approved in an election.” 

Last fall, two Republican county commissioners were successful in forcing Harris County to adopt a “no-new-revenue” property tax rate for fiscal year 2023 by preventing the court from reaching a quorum. Their actions saved residents nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. However, Democrats redistricted one of the Republican commissioners out of office, who lost reelection last November. With a 4-1 Democratic majority, the court will now be able to meet quorum and pass agenda items without opposition. 

However, “the root cause of that debate” over police defunding “remains unresolved,” Hegar said, adding, “Judge Lina Hidalgo and the Harris County Commissioners Court are defunding the police.” 

Hidalgo’s office posted a statement on social media, saying, “Comptroller Hegar and his allies seem to be struggling with basic accounting. Per Harris County’s 26 pay period accounting, funding for the Precinct 5 Constable’s office increased by almost two million dollars (from $46.6M to $48.5M) between the two budgets in question.”

She also said she looked forward to fighting Hegar’s ruling in court and “in the meantime, Comptroller Hegar needs to go back to accounting class.”

Hegar has suggested that the state Legislature consider if any “further action must be taken to ensure Texas law enforcement agencies and personnel have the resources needed to keep Texans safe.”

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Gov. Greg Abbott’s press office didn’t respond to requests for comment about Hegar’s findings. However, when he first requested the investigation, Gov. Abbott said, “The dangerous actions taken by Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County represent a brazen disregard for the safety and security of the Texans they are sworn to protect. The loss of millions of dollars in funding will endanger public safety across the county at a time when Texas law enforcement is working harder than ever to keep criminals and dangerous drugs out of our communities. 

“Harris County continues to show complete negligence for public safety, as the same county whose revolving door bail program releases dangerous criminals back onto the streets to commit more violent crimes like murder. While Harris County politicizes the public safety of its citizens, the State of Texas will ensure our brave law enforcement partners have the resources necessary for this solemn responsibility.”

Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.

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