Texas comptroller rules Harris County defunded constables; calls for reversal or election

Texas Comptroller Glen Hager has ruled that Harris County commissioners have defunded constables.

Hegar sent a letter to state leaders along with Judge Lina Hidalgo and the rest of the Commissioners Court on Monday, saying the county ending its policy to "automatically rollover" funds from one fiscal year to the next fiscal year, resulted in more than $3 million in funds that were meant for local constables to be returned to the general fund.

MORE: Constables claim Harris County defunded more than $4 million from their agencies

He added that the county's proposed budget earlier this year for the next fiscal year reduced funding to the Constables Office by over $12 million. And while the recently revised planning budget increased funding to the Constables Office, there was still a loss in overall funding.

After outlining the allegations his office is investigating, Hegar wrote, "If the county proceeds with the Constable budget as proposed without obtaining voter approval, the county may not adopt an ad valorem tax rate that exceeds the county’s no-new-revenue tax rate."

RELATED: Harris County law enforcement disappointed with proposed budget for more resources

Hegar urged HCCC to restore funding for the constables that was lost due to the end of "rollover" budgeting and then called for a reversal of the proposed budget for the next fiscal year or "it must allow its residents to voice their opinion through an election held for the purpose of approving these actions."

Hegar and his office received the complaints, which were filed by Harris County Constable Mark Herman, representing Precinct 4, and Constable Ted Heap, last month from Gov. Greg Abbott's Office.

The governor responded to the state comptroller's findings by denouncing HCCC's budget moves and plans.

"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," said Gov Abbott. in a statement. "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. Harris County continues to show complete negligence for public safety, as the same county whose revolving door bail program releases dangerous criminals back onto the streets to commit more violent crimes like murder. While Harris County politicizes the public safety of its citizens, the State of Texas will ensure our brave law enforcement partners have the resources necessary for this solemn responsibility."

Last year, Gov. Abbott signed laws that prevent jurisdictions from unilaterally defunding their law enforcement. His office says Harris County may now face penalties.

Harris County commissioners have responded to the ruling and to the governor, saying the decision is putting county residents at risk.

Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia issued the following statement:
"This lawless action is just another example of Governor Abbott’s and Republican leadership’s assault on the people of Harris County.  On the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, Gov. Abbott and Comptroller Hegar are threatening to implement drastic cuts to our flood mitigation and public safety efforts.  This absurd decision puts Harris County residents in danger and makes our streets less safe, period.  The accusation they make is against a policy that the state itself implements. It’s hypocrisy. While Greg Abbott and his friends in Austin are playing political games, we are governing and solving real problems for Harris County."

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis released the following statement:

"This politically timed stunt is part of Greg Abbott’s ongoing assault on Harris County, and deception is the weapon of choice.  Truth is the best defense against a dangerous lie, so here’s the truth: Every Harris County law enforcement agency has received a budget increase since 2018. This occurred even as we’ve been forced to make hard cuts elsewhere because of the state’s contempt for local government and services. 

Year after year, Harris County is making historic investments in public safety. It’s a top priority that’s clearly reflected in our budget and the work we’re doing to keep our communities safe. While we’ve been busy working to protect and serve the people of Harris County, others have been busy playing games and fear-mongering about public safety to advance an extremist agenda.

These deceptive political games have to stop because it’s Harris County residents who will lose out in the end."

GOP candidate for Harris County Judge Alexandra del Moral Mealer issued the following statement on the ruling:

"The Texas Comptroller’s recent findings confirm two facts (1) the current commissioners court is not transparent about how taxpayer money is being spent and (2) we have not adequately funded our law enforcement. Whether we want to continue to play semantics about whether Judge Lina Hidalgo has defunded police, it is clear her administration has led an effort to constrain law enforcement during an unprecedented crime wave. As County Judge, my top priority will be to adequately fund law enforcement and our entire criminal justice system so that every neighborhood in Harris County can be safe."