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Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has threatened to block Harris County from enacting its proposed $2.2 billion annual spending plan due to accusations that officials in the most populous county State would have reduced the expenses of its agents – even if these offices would benefit from a strong increase in their budgets.
Hegar says the county violated state laws passed last year to prevent cities and counties from cutting police spending in the wake of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. Minneapolis.
In a letter sent Monday and first reported by The Houston Chronicle, Hegar accused Harris County officials of flouting one of those new state laws when he ended a policy l last year that allowed county agencies to “roll over” unspent funds to the next year’s budget. an unusual method of budgeting not seen in most Texas cities and counties or at the state level.
This led to two county constables complaining to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office that Harris County officials cut constable budgets because more than $3 million was not allowed to be carried over to the budget year. next, according to Hegar.
“I urge the Harris County Commissioners Court to review its budget support for its constable office and restore the funding lost as a result of the decision to end ‘postponed’ budgeting,” Hegar wrote to the judge. of Harris County, Lina Hidalgo, and County Commissioners.
Republicans have used Hegar’s accusation as an opportunity to hit out at Hidalgo, the county’s Democratic chief executive who is considered a rising star in the party, as she faces a grueling re-election battle in November.
“The dangerous actions taken by Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County represent a callous disregard for the safety and security of the Texans they are sworn to protect,” Abbott said in a press release.
Hidalgo fired back – accusing Hegar and Abbott of spreading ‘brazen lies’, saying the county has only increased funding for law enforcement since taking office in 2018 and vowing to ‘fight this problem before the courts”.
“The truth is, before I took office, Harris County was nothing more than a rubber stamp for Abbott and his far-right agenda, and they don’t appreciate the change,” said Hidalgo in a statement. “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.”
In this year’s proposed budget, Harris County commissioners plan to spend nearly $232 million to fund the county’s eight police offices, an increase of nearly 10 percent over the previous fiscal year. The two constables who complained to Abbott’s office that they were losing funds – Mark Herman and Ted Heap – would receive budget increases of 12% and 7.7% respectively under the plan from the previous fiscal year . They also received budget increases the previous year – along with the other Constables.
A spokesperson for Heap said the agent was “satisfied” with Hegar’s decision. Herman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Following protests over Floyd’s death two years ago, Abbott and Republicans in the Texas Legislature passed laws to punish officials in urban areas controlled by the city’s Democrats if they cut the expenses of their police services.
It is unclear how these laws apply in the case of Harris County. One of the laws passed in 2021 requires counties to ask voters to approve proposed cuts to public safety budgets. If a county goes ahead with these cuts without calling an election, it is not allowed to increase its budget.
But that law didn’t go into effect until January 2022, 10 months after Harris County changed its budget policy to end deferrals. A spokesperson for Hidalgo said county departments had nearly a year’s notice before the policy took effect — and could ask to hold their unspent funds, which some constables did. Unspent funds are now paid into the country’s general fund.
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