Harris County approves the option of suing Comptroller over baloney “defunding” claim


Harris County Commissioners Court on Wednesday authorized a pair of private law firms to sue Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who accused the county of defunding law enforcement last week, forcing a halt to consideration of its $2.2 billion budget.

The move, approved by a 3-1 vote, came a week after Hegar sent a letter to county officials saying the court could not approve its proposed fiscal 2023 budget without approval of voters because of a change in policy that he said would result in the county funding two constable offices at a lower level in violation of a new state law.

The constables — Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap — had complained to Gov. Greg Abbott last year after the county changed its policy to do away with “rollover” budgeting that had allowed departments to keep unspent funds and use them in future budget cycles. Hegar’s letter said the change would result in the county, under its proposed budget, cutting funding to the two constable offices by $3 million.


In a letter to Hegar on Tuesday, County Administrator David Berry asked the Comptroller’s Office to clarify its investigation and whether it prevents the county from adopting a tax rate and budget.

The comptroller responded Wednesday by modifying his claim, alleging the proposed budget would result in a cut in law enforcement spending for a different reason — by comparing the proposed spending plan to this year’s 2022 short fiscal year budget, when broken down by month.

In addition to eliminating rollover budgeting, the county is changing its fiscal year to begin Oct. 1 rather than March 1. To accomplish that, Commissioners Court planned to pass two budgets this year. The first, a shortened budget, was approved in February and runs through September. The second, beginning Oct. 1, will span a full year.

Berry criticized the comptroller for using “fuzzy math,” saying the short fiscal year budget covered 16 pay periods.

“There’s no other reasonable way to do it,” he said. “When you properly annualize the budget, it’s clearly higher in FY23 (the proposed budget).”

County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Hegar’s second letter suggests the Comptroller’s Office is walking back its original defunding claim.

“They’re beginning to realize that the allegations they made make little sense,” Hidalgo said. “They’re moving away from talking about the rollover. They know that that’s absolutely nonsensical and are trying to take a different tack that also doesn’t make sense.”

Berry also took issue with the comptroller’s assertion the county should work the issue out with the constables.

“We believe we’ve complied with the law,” Berry said. “If the comptroller doesn’t, they have to explain. All we’ve gotten so far is some fuzzy math.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioners Court hired two law firms to represent the county — Yetter Coleman LLP and Alexander Dubose & Jefferson LLP — in a split vote, with the court’s three Democrats in favor and Republican Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle opposed. Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey was absent.

Hidalgo said she is willing to move forward through legal action or negotiation, but the county needs to be careful in how it responds to allegations of violating the new state law.

“I am pretty opposed to giving in to any kind of extortion,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t know what precedent that would set.”

See here for the background. This new explanation is even dumber and more insulting than the original one. Of course an eight-month budget is going to have less of pretty much everything in it than a 12-month budget. If the Comptroller had been at all serious about this, the matter could have been easily resolved. Instead, they charged ahead with this stupid allegation, which unfortunately comes with the power to prevent the county from passing a budget, a situation which as noted would result in an actual decrease in funding to the Sheriff and Constables. It’s like they looked around to make sure there was a rake in easy stepping distance before they moved forward.

The response from Harris County – minus Commissioner Cagle, of course – and Judge Hidalgo was entirely appropriate. The county cannot take lightly an accusation that it is violating the law. The fact that the accusation itself is completely specious is almost beside the point, but given that it is there are only two acceptable resolutions: The Comptroller retracts its claim and absolves Harris County of any alleged wrongdoing, so that it can pass its budget as planned, or we go to court and let them try to prove their foolish claims. No concessions, because there’s nothing to concede.

Which brings me to this:

Herman and Heap said the court’s action on Wednesday took them by surprise. The two Republican constables said they had met with county officials late last week and Monday and thought they had come up with a solution.

The pair, Herman said, had agreed to write letters saying their concerns had been resolved. Hegar would have to write his own letter rescinding his previous communications with the county.

“Both sides were agreeing,” Herman said. “We agreed to put this thing to rest.”

Then, he said, he learned that Hidalgo had put an item on the agenda for Wednesday’s special meeting to pursue possible legal action against Hegar.

“It’s almost like a slap in the face,” he said. “We’re kind of disappointed. We’ll see what happens.”

Herman said if the county continues forward with a strategy of suing Hegar, he and Heap would request their own legal counsel to represent their interests in the broadening fight.

In a brief text message, Heap confirmed he had met with county officials in recent days and echoed Herman’s frustration.

“We have been in negotiations with the office of budget management for several days and I was very encouraged with the progress,” he texted. “However, the actions of Commissioners court today as well as some of their post on social media platforms disappoint me.”

You dudes started this fight. If you don’t like the way the Court is finishing it, that’s tough. Maybe don’t be such crybabies next time.

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7 Responses to Harris County approves the option of suing Comptroller over baloney “defunding” claim

  1. Mainstream says:

    Bill King came out with an extensive analysis of the county budget claims regarding public safety today with these takeaways:

    • The County does not spend anywhere close to two-thirds of its budget on law enforcement as Judge Hidalgo has claimed.

    • Prior to 2021, Commissioners Courts, under both Republican and Democratic control, increased the County’s law enforcement budget by about 5% each year. Since inflation for most of the time was running at about 2%, those increases represented real increases in capacity. However, in 2021, the Commissioners Court only increased the law enforcement by about 2% when inflation was running at 7%, thereby, cutting the budgets by 5% in real economic terms. This also coincided with a dramatic increase in crime.

    • This year, in the face of intense public pressure over an exploding crime wave, Commissioners Court granted some one-time funding increases to law enforcement. These fell during the short-year budget. If those one-time funding grants are annualized, they would represent about a 10-11% increase. However, the proposed budget for next year rolls back about half of those increases. Therefore, funding available to law enforcement next year will be less than what they have this year.

  2. With all due respect, I don’t consider Bill King to be a credible source of information.

  3. C.L. says:

    Mainstream, that sounds more like a wash to me…. If you were increasing funding by 5% every year and inflation was only 2% year after year, then increased it by 2% when inflation was at 7%, aren’t you still ahead of game ?

    An increase year after year is still an increase year after year, regardless of the inflation rate.

    I’m with Kuff, Bill King isn’t much of an authority on anything, …especially the COH’s budget. That fact that his claim to fame was as Mayor of Kemah ($5+ Million in revenue for 2023) (followed by a stint on the Editorial Board of the Houston Comical), and the fact that he then ran for Mayor of Houston (with a $5+ Billion budget for 2023) still makes me laugh.

  4. Kuff,

    I think most people would agree that the Constables didn’t start this fight. This all began when Harris County Commissioners Court clawed-back previously authorized roll-over funds from the Constable Offices’ budgets last year. I think we can all agree that by taking that money back, the Constable Offices experienced a significant reduction in their funding. At the time, all eight Constables (Democrats and Republicans alike) appeared at Commissioners Court to publicly object to the reduction in funding (but to no avail). This was despite Judge Hidalgo’s previous pledge not to claw-back those roll-over funds – see link below:


    All the above aside, if the Comptroller’s Office believed Harris County’s actions last year violated S.B. 23, they should have objected when Harris County adopted the 3/1/22 budget. That would have been appropriate. It’s hard for the Comptroller’s Office to now allege a S.B. 23 violation since the upcoming budget (starting 10/1/22) actually allocates more money to the Constables Offices than the current (3/1/22) budget does. S.B. 23 just compares the proposed budget to the preceding budget (not to historical budgets).

    Anyway, we definitely need a quick resolution to this issue. If not, Harris County government will have to adopt the “no new revenue” tax rate, which would hamstring county government operations, including law enforcement. Frankly, I would rather Harris County give the Constables some money rather than hamstring operations while this plays out in court. Besides, at the end of the day, I suspect the largest beneficiaries of a county lawsuit would end up being the private law firms billing county taxpayers. I’d rather give the money to our local Constables, not the lawyers.

  5. C.L. says:

    ‘If you didn’t use all the money I gave you last year, why am I giving you more this year than I previously had’ ?

    Having worked for a governmental agency for three + decades, I’ve lived through years where, at the end of the fiscal year, we burn through the remaining funds in the pot just so we don’t have to give it/have it clawed back.

    When you don’t drain your allocated funds to a zero level by year’s end, and the ‘giver’ of said funds legally acquires the unspent money back, then gives you more money going forward in an amount in excess of the previous year, I don’t know how anyone can claim your funding has been reduced.

    Herman and Heap’s outrage/indignation over the County’s position and possible lawsuit filing is laughable. What did they think was going to happen when they started going down this road, and directly/indirectly got the Wiley Band of Numbnuts in Austin involved ? SMH. These two donkeys may have issues with basic math, but I’d expect Hegar to have a better grasp and be able to discern the difference between a ‘divided by eight’ and a ‘divided by twelve’ budget cycle.

  6. Jonathan Freeman says:

    This seems like more nonsense from the GOP to me as well. None of the law enforcement agencies are getting less funds than previous years when comparing apples to apples, TFB if the constables are unhappy their private slush funds were taken as part of the solution to increase funding overall. They want their cake and eat it to but that isn’t how it works.

    I have yet to see a financial analysis from Kemah’s former mayor on any topic that provided a convincing argument for those willing to independently verify his numbers in context but I’d read whatever snake oil pitch he’s put out just because so many right-wingers will run with it as if it were on stone tablets. The county seems to spend the bulk of its operating budget on law enforcement and related fields, maybe Mainstream can provide something tangible as to why he or King argue otherwise.

  7. I can tell you fully utilizing, but staying within, your allotted annual budget on a specific date (the exact end of the fiscal year) can be very challenging, especially for larger county departments with multi-million-dollar budgets. Throughout the year, a large number of Purchase Orders are opened and used, by a lot of people, for numerous products and services, and the exact timing associated with the receipt, processing, and payment of all those vendor invoices can be unpredictable. Since costs can vary, most P.O.’s are funded/encumbered for a certain amount and then adjusted throughout the year.

    For example, the Sheriff’s Office has literally hundreds of Purchase Orders that have to be adjusted and reconciled through the ordering/invoices/payments process. In addition, staff costs can vary from pay period to pay period, due mainly to the use of overtime. Minimum staffing levels have to be maintained even when officers call out sick, use FMLA, etc. Officers also can’t just walk-off a call for service, a crime scene, out of a courtroom, etc. when their regular duty shift is up. Officers who have over 240 hours comp. time are paid money for their OT hours.

    In a perfect world, all expenses would be known upfront. Instead, we had to do a certain amount of forecasting (guessing) and adjusting throughout the fiscal year. What I’m saying is, there really needs to be some flexibility, especially for the larger, more complex county departments. The ability to carry forward leftover funds from one fiscal year to the next gives agencies some cushion, plus rewards them for being fiscally responsible (saving for a rainy day).

    When there is no flexibility and county departments are told to “use it or lose it”, there is no incentive to reserve funds to cover any unexpected expenses, variable costs, etc. Instead, they rush to spend every dime, wisely or not, by the fiscal year end date just so their funding isn’t reduced the next year (some bean-counter could say, since you didn’t spend your entire budget last year, you can now make do with less). Anyway, just my two cents.

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