Texas Governor Gregg Abbott laid down a marker yesterday aimed squarely at the liberal politicians who run the City of Austin, the Texas State Capitol. He’s proposing a new statue for the next session of the Texas State Legislature that would free the property tax revenues of any Texas cities that vote to decrease their spending on police protection in the city.
Last week the Austin City Council voted unanimously to decrease the budget of the Austin Police Department by $150 million next year, as part of approving an overall City budget of $4.2 billion. As originally proposed, the reduction in Police spending would have been over $430 million. The vote last week included a reduction of $20 million from the police budget for the remainder of 2020.
To put the matter into perspective, the entire annual budget of the Austin Police Department is only $375 million. Reports are not clear over what time period the $150 million in cuts will be realized.
As is the case with most of the other wrong-headed proposals by other liberally controlled large US cities, the Austin City Council intends to “reinvest” the “savings” into a variety of the “social justice warrior” endeavors that are suddenly all the rage across the land. It calls for increased use of social workers to deal with calls for police that involve dealing with the mentally ill or drug addicts, and more social services for crime victims.
But a less-commented on feature of most of these stories is the fact that almost every proposal or move to reduce police spending includes transferring away from the police departments themselves many types of civilian services that are provided as a collateral benefit to such police services.
Among the “savings” that are being achieved by virtue of the City Council’s vote is the cancellation of the next three cadet classes of recruits to the Austin PD. One effective way to “downsize” a police department without having to vote to do so is to simply not provide a pipeline of new officers to take the place of officers who retire or depart. The Austin Police Department has 1850 sworn officers. Austin is the home of the University of Texas, and has an overall population just under one million people.
But the Austin City leaders did not anticipate the response that came on Tuesday from the Governor, backed by GOP leaders in the Texas Legislator. The Republicans control all three state institution, and they announced that during the next session of the State Legislature they would introduce legislation that freeze property tax revenues for any municipality which votes to cut spending on police services Texas has no state income tax, and property tax revenue is collected only by local government entities such as cities and counties. Those tax revenues fund local services like schools, local infrastructure, police, and fire. Along with sales taxes — which are collected by the state and then apportioned back to the local governments — property taxes are the lifeblood of spending by local government entities like the Austin City Council.
Democrats are making a strong effort in 2020 to try and gain ground on the GOP in the Texas legislature, but the cushion held by the Republicans will almost certainly keep both houses firmly in GOP control. The GOP currently enjoys a 19-12 advantage in the 31-member Texas Senate, and a 83-67 advantage in the 150-member State House. The Democrats are unlikely to flip either, and the GOP will remain in control for the next session. It will be interesting to see if Austin reconsiders last week’s vote with the threat of a significant restraint on future tax revenues hanging over their heads.