SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Gov. Greg Abbott’s proposal to freeze property tax revenue for cities that de-fund their police departments won’t limit what changes the city considers for its own department.
Abbott and top Republican state legislators announced the idea as a legislative proposal on Tuesday, following the City of Austin’s move to cut more than a third of its police budget. A spokesman for the governor said they expect legislators to take the idea up as a bill in the 2021 regular session, which begins in January.
“Any city that de-funds police departments will have its property tax revenue frozen at the current level. They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again if they de-fund police,” Abbott said Tuesday.
While the governor’s spokesman said Abbott would look at any decrease in police funding as “de-funding,” he only laid out the broadest strokes of his idea on Tuesday. A bill would still need to be introduced and proceed through the legislative process.
Asked for his reaction to Abbott’s plan on Wednesday, Nirenberg said the city council and community are undergoing the budget process, “but is it any surprise that the so-called ‘small government’ bureaucrats in Austin are playing Big Brother again?”
The City of San Antonio has not included any drastic police cuts in its FY 2021 budget. In fact, the current proposal increases the San Antonio Police Department’s general fund budget.
However, City Manager Erik Walsh has proposed a months-long process to review and possibly revamp what role police officers play in the city and to what kind of calls they respond. That could conceivably lead to large-scale changes for the police department, including “de-funding,” which is generally accepted to mean reallocating some of a police department’s money to other programs.
Nirenberg said Abbott’s threat to freeze property taxes would not limit what the city considers for changes.
“The important part of this conversation, though, is understanding that community safety is a function of more than just policing and fire services,” he said. “It’s about making sure we’re investing the proper amount of resources and nutrition programs, health programs, infrastructure -- simple things that we often take for granted in our city budget that are very important for building a community.”
The City of San Antonio is also feeling pressure from the other side of the spectrum. Local activists have made clear their frustration with the current budget proposal, which includes a raise for police officers.
Nirenberg has supported Walsh’s approach and pointed out that the increase is tied to the police union contract. Of the $487.2 million allocated for police in the general fund in the proposed budget, $100.1 million is not tied to the collective bargaining agreement. That includes funding for the 911 communications center, fleet maintenance and technical support.
“Any vote to reduce the police budget was effectively made in 2016 when the city council passed the collective bargaining agreement,” Nirenberg said.
“We’re going to take a thoughtful approach with the discretion that we do have in other parts of the budget, policing included, to make sure that we’re properly investing in a balanced way across this community. But to suggest that can be done in a knee-jerk fashion would only be doing lip service to the kind of investments that the community really wants to see across the board.”