Harris County and State of Texas continue budget battle; Garcia claims win; Comptroller slaps back

Two constables claimed they were being underfunded. Some commissioners said law enforcement spending is at an all-time high.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2022
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An investigation into Harris County's budget, which two constables claim defunds their offices, is not continuing, Commissioner Adrian Garcia says.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Harris County budget battle continues Harris County, with two constables' claims of law enforcement defunding at the center of the conflict, despite some claims to the contrary.

On Tuesday, Adrian Garcia, who represents the county's precinct 2, said Gov. Greg Abbott and Comptroller Glenn Hegar were walking back their public claims that the county's proposed budget violates Senate Bill 23, which went into effect in January and punishes any government organization that reduces or defunds law enforcement by hamstringing its budget. But Hegar's statement released on Wednesday said, essentially, not so fast.

The commissioner claimed that both Abbott and Hegar, through their attorneys, are admitting the state has not determined the county's budget for the next fiscal year reduces funds for law enforcement and is not investigating whether the county's proposed budget reduces funding for law enforcement.

"The parties are expected to reach an agreement making clear that neither the Governor nor the Comptroller will be investigating nor making a determination of the County's proposed budget under Senate Bill 23," Garcia wrote in a news release.

"This latest admission by state officials proves Harris County has and continues to prioritize public safety spending to the highest degree. I'm glad that Gov. Abbott and Comptroller Hegar seemingly have come to their senses and recognize the same," Garcia wrote, adding that this is also a win for local governments across the state of Texas "who know better than anyone in Austin does on how to govern to keep their counties safe."

Eyewitness News reached out to Abbott and Hegar's offices on Tuesday and was still waiting to hear the governor's response. The comptroller's office said Wednesday morning that Garcia's claims were not accurate.

"My investigation complies with the statutory duties envisioned by the Legislature when it passed Senate Bill 23," Hegar's statement read. "My role si not to prevent the adoption of a budget. It is to examine whether the adopted budget complies with Texas law."

Harris County's budget was 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. Hegar issued a letter shortly after, effectively preventing the county from adopting its budget without making changes.

Since that point in late August, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo defended the budget and denied the claims.

"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 on Aug. 24. "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.

SEE MORE: Is Harris County defunding police in proposed 2023 budget?

What exactly do the constables claim?

This has to do with the concept of rollover funds. That policy, which was eliminated after the fiscal year 2021, said that any money leftover from a previous year's budget would automatically roll over to the next fiscal year.

Numbers provided by the Harris County Office of County Administration show Herman's office used $6 million in rollover funds in 2021.

If they have that much left at the end of this year, and it doesn't automatically get added to the upcoming budget, the thought around defunding stems from that loss would negate the $4 million budget increase the agency is set to receive in 2023.

The Harris County Administrator said those agencies can still get that leftover money, which is why it isn't defunding law enforcement.

SEE MORE: Harris County votes to file lawsuit against Texas over 'defunding' law enforcement allegations