By Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar
Recently my office initiated an investigation into a complaint made by Harris County constables alleging that Harris County has acted to defund police, which violates Texas law and thereby reduces the constables’ ability to protect the lives and property of residents.
My investigation complies with the statutory duties envisioned by the Legislature when it passed Senate Bill (SB) 23. My role is not to prevent the adoption of a budget. It is to examine whether the adopted budget complies with Texas law. My letters warned the county that their proposed budget would not be in compliance. I hoped this would give Harris County and the constables an opportunity to reach a local solution, thus enabling the county to resolve the matter prior to adopting their proposed budget and triggering otherwise avoidable consequences. And that is almost what happened.
Unfortunately, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo instead engaged in partisan maneuvering, attacking me and obstructing the discussions with law enforcement. Rather than finding an amicable solution that keeps constables on the streets with the equipment and personnel needed to protect Harris County residents, Judge Hidalgo has decided to spend taxpayer funds to sue and continue engaging in political misdirection. On a 3-1 vote, they hired two high-priced law firms and developed a 700-page legal document, but, contrary to the county’s claim, the district court did not hear any of their arguments.
If Harris County commissioners move forward and adopt a budget that fails to cure the issues in the proposed budget that we reviewed, then that adopted budget will be in violation of Local Government Code. Harris County remains subject to all the provisions of SB 23. Judge Hidalgo’s political games have cost valuable time and taxpayer resources.
Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey were right to point out that reaching an agreement with law enforcement is the responsible choice, and it is the choice that protects the people of Harris County. Instead, Judge Hidalgo took the opportunity to grandstand and characterize law enforcement’s efforts to secure appropriate funding as extortion. In doing so, she’s threatening the men and women who risk so much to protect Texans. As my office has said on multiple occasions, only Harris County can resolve this issue, adopt a budget that complies with state law and protect its citizens.
Anyone who has read the news or checked their neighborhood message boards knows that criminals are acting with impunity in cities around the nation. Violent crime is spiking because police budgets are being slashed and criminals face no accountability for their actions. Every day, we read stories about violent offenders walking free without even having to post bail. It is no wonder that men and women in law enforcement feel so abandoned that they are retiring or leaving the profession in record numbers.
My office has made it clear that adopting a county budget that fully funds law enforcement and complies with the law is Judge Hidalgo’s responsibility. I call on her to empower her staff to continue efforts to find a solution that safeguards the people of Harris County and restores the resources needed by the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect residents and their homes and businesses.