I was all set to have a peaceful weekend when I came across a press release from Commissioner Ellis’ office on Friday afternoon about this.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Friday accused Harris County of defunding law enforcement, rekindling a feud from last fall in which Republican state officials threatened to block the county’s annual budget.
At issue is a new state law passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature, Senate Bill 23, that bars large counties from cutting law enforcement spending without getting approval from voters. Hegar, responding to a fresh complaint from Harris County Constable Ted Heap, said county officials had reduced the budget for Heap’s Precinct 5 office by some $2.4 million in their most recent budget.
Hegar said in a statement that the county will be barred from increasing property tax collections — plus revenue from properties added to the tax roll last year — until it resolves the discrepancy. It could also ask voters to approve the “funding reduction” in a referendum, Hegar said.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said the county would challenge Hegar’s finding in court if necessary.
“We’ve seen this show before — Comptroller Hegar misconstruing the law and playing political games to make headlines,” Menefee tweeted. “His math was wrong then and it’s wrong now.”
As happened last fall, Hegar and County Administrator David Berry have used different methods to project out Heap’s seven-month budget to a full year. Under Hegar’s calculations, Heap’s “annualized” budget would have been about $48.9 million over 12 months — nearly $2.3 million off from the $46.7 million figure calculated by the county.
Adding to the confusion, Hegar and the county are separately at odds over Heap’s current budget, which was adopted by the Democratic-controlled Commissioners Court last fall. According to Hegar, Heap’s office was allotted about $46.6 million for the 2023 fiscal year. Berry’s office said Heap actually received $48.5 million.
Hegar, a Republican, said he hopes Heap and county officials can resolve the situation themselves “long before Harris County begins budget deliberations for fiscal year 2024.” He also predicted that county officials would “once again use a convoluted approach” to argue they had not reduced Heap’s funding.
“The root cause of that debate, however, remains unresolved,” Hegar said in the statement, referring to the defunding spat from last fall. “Judge Lina Hidalgo and the Harris County Commissioners Court are defunding the police.”
Hidalgo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For his part, Berry noted that the county had already been forced to adopt the property tax revenue freeze for its current budget because Commissioners Court was unable to reach a quorum needed to set a tax rate.
Same shit, different year. Last time around, Hegar folded like a cheap suit after Harris County took the matter to court. Neither he nor Ted Heap seems to have gotten any better at math or more truthful in general, so most likely this will play out in similar fashion. But boy it sure would be nice to have a state government that wasn’t a constant threat to our local matters? Even for a few weeks. Oh, and if this is one of the final straws that leads to Constable precinct redistricting, I won’t complain.