Millions in funds for extra projects now paused after 2 Harris County commissioners skipped meetings

Wednesday, October 26, 2022
$45 million in funds for extra projects on hold in Harris County
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Two republican Harris County commissioners missed meetings to vote on a tax rate increase. Now, millions in new spending won't happen.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- After weeks of back-and-forth, the budget standoff came to an end, with Harris County commissioners being blocked from increasing the tax rate, meaning millions in new spending will not take place.

Tuesday was the last chance to pass a tax rate increase. What it means is extra money will not be coming to departments.

Services still take place. However, new programs, cadets, and projects are now on hold.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo calls it cuts.

"It doesn't mean every hospital shuts down, but if you're having to operate $45 million in the red, that means you had a budget and you can't meet it," Hidalgo said. "That's $45 million less than. We're simply not able to provide these same services that we had before."

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg calls it bad policy by not prioritizing law enforcement.

"The budgets we've submitted were apparently contingent upon some kind of tax increase that they wanted on Harris County residents," Ogg said. "We're saying, fund law enforcement, defund something else."

This is happening because two Republican county commissioners will not show up to meetings. Without them, a vote to increase the tax rate cannot take place.

The commissioners had two chances on Tuesday. The first was focused on law enforcement, the second was on healthcare, and flood control.

During both meetings, Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey's seats remained empty. They have not shown up for more than a month.

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Law enforcement members packed into the room, urging Democratic members to increase their budgets, even without a tax rate change.

"It's just not genuine to say we must be cut, because they don't have a quorum, or because they can't pass their tax hike," Ogg explained. "What is real is prioritized spending."

Hidalgo said if the increased tax rate was passed, law enforcement would receive more than $100 million. She calls the move by the Republican commissioners, "nothing but politics".

ABC13 asked the judge what would happen if Republicans took control of the court and she did not support the budget. Would she commit to not skipping meetings?

Here's what she told us:

"There can be policy disagreements," Hidalgo said. "People talk about a group of legislators who broke quorum because they didn't want certain voting laws passed. You're disagreeing on policy. We're trying to pass a budget."

The reason why Tuesday was the final chance is because a tax rate cannot be changed for the following year past this week. In order to have a vote on this, a week's notice is needed to take place.

ABC13 reached out for a statement from the two commissioners who did not come out. Cagle had no comment.

Ramsey sent out a statement:

"Despite the misrepresentations from today, the proposed tax rates would've resulted in generating a quarter-billion-dollars more in tax revenue. Posting this increase for five consecutive meetings is proof that the Court majority never intended to negotiate. Our constituents have been victims of wasteful spending for four years. From the addition of seven new departments, an $11M politically bid-rigged contract, and a historically expensive and disruptive redistricting yet no commitment to more neighborhood patrol officers - enough is enough. I am proud to have done my part in protecting our residents from the reckless management of their money." Ramsey said.

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After skipping the previous two meetings, it appears one Harris County Republican is willing to return to commissioners court, but under one condition.