HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The state of Texas is telling Harris County it cannot adopt its budget for the next fiscal year because of how it is funding law enforcement. It is a result of Senate Bill 23, which went into effect in January, and punishes any government organization that reduces or defunds law enforcement by hamstringing its budget.
Harris County's budget is now in flux, after constables Mark Herman and Ted Heap filed a complaint with the state about the county's move to disallow the carryover of unused funds. State Comptroller Glen Hegar issued a letter Monday effectively preventing the county from adopting its budget without making changes.
"We believe it's totally political and unwarranted," Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia told ABC13. "There is no basis for it. It really could upend county operations, county government, our ability to provide services to constituents all across Harris County. It could really be devastating. Is this defunding of law enforcement? Absolutely not."
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement on Tuesday which read, in part, "The dangerous actions taken by Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County represent a brazen disregard for the safety and security of the Texans they are sworn to protect. The loss of millions of dollars in funding will endanger public safety across the county at a time when Texas law enforcement is working harder than ever to keep criminals and dangerous drugs out of our communities"
Judge Lina Hidalgo denies the defunding claim and spoke about it in an interview with ABC13 last week.
"Our latest budget has $1.4 billion toward crime and for those who might say they would do more, that is 2/3 of the county budget going toward justice and going toward safety," Hidalgo said. "That is an increase over the last three and half years of $175 million when it comes to criminal justice and crime"
The county provided ABC13 numbers that show an increase in funding to both Herman and Heap's departments in each of the last four years and shared with us that Harris County's budget for all constables is more than four times as large as the constables for Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and El Paso Counties combined.
On Tuesday, Hidalgo released the following statement regarding Abbott's response:
"I have already made clear, in response to repeated false accusations of 'defunding,' that Harris County has only increased funding for law enforcement since I have been in office. Comptroller Hegar's decision and Governor Abbott's words (Tuesday) are only the latest false claim of defunding, seeking to mislead the community about our work in Harris County. The truth is, before I took office, Harris County was not much more than a rubber-stamp for Abbott and his far-right agenda, and they resent the change. We're about two months away from my re-election and they're throwing everything-including outright lies-at the wall to see what sticks.
Their statements are based on a law that passed during the far-right 2021 Legislative Session, alongside permitless carry and the ban on abortion. The law's cynical intent was clear then as it is now- to give a veil of credibility to false claims of "defunding."
Most concerning is that the law allows for this transparently political stunt to potentially lead to the state actually defunding Harris County government, removing millions of dollars needed for flood mitigation, public safety, healthcare, environmental programs, veterans services, and so much more, based on false claims of "defunding police."
I will be working with the County Attorney's Office to fight this issue in court, will continue to work to build a safer community, and will not cave to political bullying or pandering.
Here are the facts:
Every law enforcement agency in Harris County-including the Constables' offices-has received year-over-year funding increases. In total, the Constables' budgets have increased by over 17% since 2019. The County's planned justice and safety budget for this latest fiscal year is $1.4 billion, the largest investment in this area in Harris County history, and a full two-thirds of the County's general fund operations budget."
Hidalgo's opponent for Harris County Judge, Alexandra del Moral Mealer, also issued a statement saying her top priority would be to adequately fund law enforcement. Both Herman and Heap along with several law enforcement organizations have endorsed her campaign.