AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott announced another legislative proposal Thursday in an attempt to thwart cities from taking steps to “defund police.”
Abbott explained that his latest plan would mean cities that defund police departments “will forever lose their annexation powers, & any areas and any residents that have ever been annexed by that city in the past will have the power to dis-annex them from the city.”
He added that this would leave Austin in particular “no choice” but to restore funding to its police department. He also used the event to call on leaders and those living in the state to sign a pledge to “Back the Blue.”
When asked how he defines “defunding,” Abbott would not offer an answer, instead saying that will be up to the state legislature to determine.
In mid-August, the governor proposed legislation that would freeze property tax increases for cities that move funding from their police department. The proposal came after Austin City Council decided to transition $150 million from the Austin Police Department over the next year. About $20 million of that would be immediately reallocated to other areas related to public health and safety.
Mayor Steve Adler released the following statement Thursday afternoon not long after the governor’s news conference ended:
“To be clear – Austin City leaders have neither defunded the police department nor support doing so. I’m unaware of any elected official who believes differently. The Governor’s pledge is political theatre intended to scare and distract us from important public safety conversations about opening our children’s schools and saving lives during the pandemic or whether police should be mental health first responders and social workers. Austin is the safest big city in Texas and among the few safest in the country. We’ll continue to make an already safe city even safer and, importantly, safer for everyone. As we get closer to November, expect more distractions that intend to divide rather than unite.”
The governor is also asking people to sign the pledge on his campaign website, then post about it on social media on Thursday. He also plans to hold a press conference that day to sign the pledge himself, alongside other state leaders.
“Some cities in Texas want to defund and dismantle police departments in our state,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “This reckless action invites crime into our communities and it threatens the safety of all Texans including law enforcement officers in our families.”
The pledge says those who sign both support law enforcement and oppose defunding departments.
“I sign this Texas Backs the Blue Pledge to oppose any efforts to defund the police and to show my support for the brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect and serve. Defunding our police departments would invite crime into our communities and put people in danger. That is why I pledge to support any measure that discourages or stops efforts to defund police departments in Texas.
Our law enforcement officers have our backs every single day, and we need to show them that Texans have their backs.
In addition to the pledge signing, Attorney General Ken Paxton and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen joined the governor at the Austin Police Association Thursday afternoon to voice their support for this proposal.
Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party executive director, said this is nothing but a “political stunt.”
Texans will always call a spade a spade when they see it. No political stunt by Greg Abbott is going to get Texans to forget the nearly 14,000 lives that have been lost to COVID-19 on his watch and thousands of our loved ones who are fighting for their lives in hospital beds across our state at this very moment. Abbott’s political stunt isn’t going to put any families, who are out of work and facing eviction, at ease.
Greg Abbott knows Texans are fed up with his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, so he tries a tired old trick to change the subject and manufacture fear. He’s desperate to change the narrative, so reporters stop asking him about his failure to protect Texans from COVID-19. And he thinks Texans will be suckers for it. That is how little he thinks of all of us.
Texans know that equal justice has never been real for Black Texans and many others. They know that we must dismantle systemic racism, and they know peaceful protest against police violence should not be met with more violence, yet that’s exactly what Donald Trump has advocated for. We must always strive to fulfill the American promise, that all are created and treated equally.
Governor Abbott, it is time to change course and take responsibility, even if it means offending Donald Trump. It’s time to put Texas before Trump.Manny Garcia
Additionally, Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party, called the governor’s announcement a “weak photo-op” to “scare surburbanites.” His statement read:
“Nearly 14,000 Texans have died from COVID-19. 3.4 million Texans have filed for unemployment since March. The short term fix of $300 unemployment insurance expansion for Texans unemployed due to the pandemic, runs out today. Systemic racism continues to plague our state and our country and threatens the lives of Black Americans and people of color. Abbott didn’t mention any of these issues today during his fear-mongering, photo-op of a press conference.
“Abbott’s pledge to defund cities that follow their values and prioritize local resources to better keep their communities safe essentially defunds the police. It’s nonsensical and a weak attempt to try to look tough in front of the cameras. Abbott can make all of the pledges he wants, but the reality is, Texans know what the real issues affecting their daily lives are.
“We want leaders who will protect and preserve the Affordable Care Act, expand Medicaid, and ensure that Texans everywhere are getting the coverage they need. We want leaders who understand that America’s promise is not fulfilled until we all are safe, secure, and have the opportunity to prosper. We want leaders who will listen to doctors and scientists, instead of right-wing donors and lobbyists. We want leaders who will respect local communities. And, we want leaders who will fight for Texans instead of looking out for Donald Trump.
“If Abbott cares so much about Austin city politics, he should run for Mayor of Austin, and we will look forward to ending his political career. For anybody who wants to see a real pledge that puts Texans first, visit the Texas First Pledge here.”
The governor’s proposal would have to be considered during the next legislative session.
Abbott has also shown early support for another set of legislation specifically targeted at Austin: putting its police force under state control. Abbott tweeted at the beginning of September that he was considering a bill that would allow a city with a population over 1 million and less than two police officers per 1,000 residents — which includes Austin — to have its police force consolidated with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
A UT Tyler/Dallas Morning News poll found a majority of Texans — 57-to-27% — oppose defunding the police.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said Republicans have seized on the defund the police movement as Republicans, including President Trump, have embraced the issue at the national level.
“For Republicans, it enables them to downplay the less-than-stellar performance of Republicans, who have basically owned the agenda in the state and the national level, when it comes to the coronavirus and the economy.”