Heading into the new legislative session, it was already likely that the city of Austin might face repercussions from Republican state leaders for decisions last summer to reallocate police funding to social service programs. Late last week, Gov. Greg Abbott gave a bit more insight into just what kind of measures he would like to put in place to prevent cities from decreasing their police budgets.
James Barragán covers Texas politics for The Dallas Morning News. He told Texas Standard that Austin initially cut $20 million from its police budget after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The money was moved into other areas of the city budget that focus on mental health and civilian staff related to law enforcement.
Abbott has said cities should not be able to reduce police budgets, or that they should face consequences from the state if they do. That position has political resonance among Republicans.
“Really, for Republican officials at the state’s top level, they’re focused on their conversations around the “defund the police” [movement],” Barragán said. “They want to be seen as pro-police.”
Barragán says Abbott has not released a specific proposal, though he has discussed withholding tax revenue collected by the state from cities whose approach to police budgeting he does not like.
“In the past, he’s talked about pulling their power of annexation,” Barragán said.
Punishing cities in this way is likely to be a priority for the governor during the legislative session, Barragán says.
For Abbott, the opportunity to assert control over cities whose policies he and other Republicans do not like provides a way to strike at Democrats who run most of Texas’ big cities.
“[Big cities are Democrats’] laboratory of democracy,” Barragán said. “They try to run their policies here. And of course, those are policies Republican officials at the state level do not like.”
And for Republicans, it’s a winning political issue, too, he says.