AUSTIN, Texas — Days after the Austin City Council voted to cut 34% of the Austin Police Department budget, the governor of Texas announced he and other state leaders are proposing legislation that would retaliate against cities that defund their police departments.
Gov. Greg Abbott, along with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, spoke at a press conference on Aug. 18 in Fort Worth. The three are proposing legislation that will freeze property tax revenue for cities that vote to defund their police departments.
Austin leaders quickly reacted to the proposal.
"Today, a group of all-white members of our state government, including Gov. Greg Abbott, attacked the Black Lives Matter movement. Gov. Abbott could have held a press conference to express his support for the George Floyd Act," Councilmember Greg Casar's statement read in part. "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. That’s what our City Council did, and it’s exactly the work we’re committed to continue."
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said in a statement, "Our country is getting really tired of staged political theater and they want real systemic change."
"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," Garza's statement read in part. "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."
Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison also criticized the governor's handling of the pandemic in response to the proposed legislation.
"I’m not at all surprised to see our state leaders do anything they can to try to distract from their catastrophic handling of the pandemic," she said in part on Facebook. "This is just another tired example of their disdain for local control and actual democracy. In order to punish us for reallocating our public safety dollars in response to unprecedented community demand, Gov. Abbott’s proposal would effectively defund everything else under the City’s purview, including parks, streets, sanitation and public health."
Councilmember Jimmy Flannigan also chimed in:
"I am disappointed in the governor's extreme rhetoric about what I believe to be the most fiscally responsible reform movement in municipal history, where we are taking the largest bureaucracy in the city’s general fund and going through it line-by-line to ensure that Austin taxpayers are getting the most from their investment – as I assume the governor meant when he proposed his 4% cut to DPS three years ago."
As did Councilmember Pio Renteria:
“Our state Republicans are once again overreaching their heavy hand to undermine local rule. The City of Austin reallocated funds from APD towards other programs that address public safety. These funds went to opening a new family violence shelter, expanding our care for those dealing with addiction, and increasing aid to those facing homelessness among many other things. Today’s theatrics were nothing more than short-term opportunism from Governor Abbott, who has offered no new solutions to the ongoing public safety discussion. The Governor has ignored the cost of human life, public health, and public safety as he pushes our schools to reopen. He has been insensitive to the ongoing racial strife within our communities and the damaging impact of COVID-19 on black and brown families. His continued mismanagement of our state's response to COVID-19, which has contributed to the loss of more than 10,000 lives, gives me no confidence in his ability to manage public safety if he were given the chance."
Last week, the Austin City Council cut roughly 34% of the Austin Police Department's $434 million total budget. Gov. Abbott said that move puts Texans in danger.
“They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again if they defund police,” Abbott said from the Bob Bolen Public Safety Center in North Texas. "Defunding the police puts Texans in danger and invites lawlessness into our cities, and cities that endanger their residents should not be able to turn around and raise more taxes from those same Texans."
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