(The Center Square) – Comptroller Glenn Hegar rescinded his determination issued in February over Harris County defunding one of its constable’s offices, applauding “Harris County and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo for finally admitting that they defunded law enforcement.”
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said the comptroller rescinding his decision was him admitting “his error” and “no longer holding Harris County’s budget process hostage.”
On Monday, the comptroller said, “Harris County conceded that the Comptroller’s annualization, which showed that the county had defunded Harris County Constable District 5, was accurate. The county relied on the Comptroller’s math to argue that the defunding was conducted in the larger context of countywide budget reductions and therefore allowable under statute.”
But Menefee implied Hegar reversed his decision after the county sued. Menefee said he hoped “in the future, we can talk through these types of allegations, as the law requires, before the Comptroller makes a final decision. Texans expect their elected representatives at different levels of government to be able to get on the phone and solve problems, even when they disagree. I urge the Comptroller to talk to us next time instead of forcing us to file a lawsuit.”
Hegar’s rescission allows the county to adopt its tax rate.
Hegar said, “The fact that they [Harris County Commissioner’s Court] defunded police as part of larger cuts to the county’s overall budget is in no way an indication of Judge Hidalgo’s commitment to public safety. Rather, it is a convenient excuse ironically only available to her thanks to the courageous efforts of Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey and former Commissioner Jack Cagle who stood firm against Judge Hidalgo’s efforts to put her political career above the safety of Harris County residents. Their actions saved county taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and brought the county budget in line with the cuts already planned for county constables.”
He also said his office would continue to analyze Harris County’s “budget maneuvering” and if he receives any more complaints in the future related “to efforts by Judge Hidalgo and others to defund police,” he will investigate.
“We are just scratching the surface now of the extreme measures Judge Hidalgo has taken in her efforts to undermine the rule of law in Harris County,” Hegar added. “Removing rollover budgets, refusing to allow law enforcement agencies to hire patrol officers and other staff despite budgeting for those positions, claiming that planting trees and striping bike lanes is law enforcement – these are just some of the tactics Judge Hidalgo has used to hide the plain truth. She doesn’t support police, and she doesn’t value the safety of Harris County families, businesses and communities. That is why I am working with lawmakers to provide the people of Texas with real transparency on this issue.”
Two Republican state lawmakers from Houston are working on amending current law to allow the state to audit the budgets of local governments that are investigated for alleged police defunding policies.
“I fought hard and have worked with Comptroller Hegar to ensure communities around this state feel secure knowing their local governments must support the men and women who keep our families safe,” Sen. Joan Huffman, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said. “Lawmakers thought we made our intentions clear, but some Harris County officials have shown that they are willing to use budget tricks and legal maneuvering to defund the levers of justice and allow criminals to remain on our streets. It has become clear we need greater transparency.”
Strengthening existing law would enable the comptroller’s office to request the state Auditor’s Office conduct an economy and efficiency audit. State law currently allows for audits of local governments that receive state money. Adding clarification to the law enables the comptroller’s office to have “greater visibility into local budgets in order to more effectively investigate complaints alleging efforts to defund police,” the senators argue.
Sen. Tom Oliverson said he was adding clarifying language to existing law as the legislature considers bills related to local governments restricting law enforcement funding.
On Feb. 10, Hegar announced that Texas’ largest county was defunding its police and imposed restrictions on it. On Dec. 14, 2022, Gov. Greg Abbott’s Criminal Justice division requested Hegar’s office investigate a complaint from Constable Ted Heap of Harris County Constable Office Precinct 5, which alleged the county’s 2023 fiscal year adopted budget reduced the resources available to Precinct 5 by $2,367,444 compared to the previous year.
The county has maintained it hasn’t defunded the constable’s office, arguing a difference exists over how the budget is calculated based on an annualized version of a 2022 short fiscal year budget compared to a fiscal year 2023 budget.
This article First appeared in the center square