FACT CHECK: The numbers behind claims Abbott, Texas leaders made about the city of Austin
Austin Mayor Steve Adler accused Governor Greg Abbott and other state leaders of skewing the facts in a press conference Tuesday.
In the state press conference, Abbott and others were critical of Austin City Council’s decision to move $150 million out of the Austin Police Department’s budget and announced a proposal that would freeze any city that defunds police’s ability to increase property taxes.
When you cite statistics, Greg Abbott, you can’t pick and choose. Not mentioning that there’s a 30% decrease from state funding to the SAFE Alliance budget for their sexual assault advocacy program seems like you’re leaving something out.
“Some might say you’re deliberately trying to mislead the public because you’re trying to threaten cities who are making decisions that you disagree with.
It’s me. I’ll say it.”
– Eliza Markowitz Texas State Board of Education and current candidate for Texas HD 28
Austin’s homicide rate
Abbott began by criticizing Austin’s recent crime rates.
“A new study showed that Austin, Texas is the number one city in America in the year to year percentage increase in murders, with a percentage increase of more than 64% for the first half of this year,” Abbott said.
APD data confirms that as of June, the city had seen a 64% increase in homicides from last year.
However, Mayor Steve Adler pointed out that the Governor was quoting only part of the findings from a recent Wall Street Journal analysis.
“What that article also said was that Austin had the second lowest homicide rate of major cities in the entire country,” Adler said in his own press conference Tuesday, responding to the governor’s.
Adler’s previous concerns about funding cuts
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen criticized Adler for voicing concerns a few years ago over tax reform that would cut the public safety budget.
“Mayor Adler, in 2016’s office put out a press release that said Austin alone would lose $15 million in 2016 if Senate Bill 2 property tax reform had been in effect. $15 million, he was worried about it. Compare that to the $150 million they’re cutting from the police department today,” Bonnen said.
Adler says the $150 million was not in cuts, but reallocation of funding.
“It was to move certain functions to civilian control and a more independent status. No function was ended. No function was reduced,” Adler said.
The only police positions the city cut are not currently filled. The council’s decision will not result in any layoffs.
In other words budget cuts came primarily from things the police currently are not utilizing to its full potential or are deemed unnecessary.
Armored Vehicles for one (Texas National Guard has plenty) many feel that the Austin Police does not need to resemble RoboCop and have the military surplus to launch an invasion of San Marcos. The idea of relocating funds to MHMR and putting more social workers on the street is one of many new ideas.
Funding for needed resources
State Senator Jane Nelson asserted defunding the police isn’t necessary to increase funding in some important areas.
“I join those who are calling for funding for mental health and rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters,” Nelson said. “We are, as a state, making huge investments in those items in our state budget, and we’ll continue to do that.”
However, Austin’s SAFE Alliance says it hasn’t seen any increase in state dollars — only federal money that the state allocated to the non-profit.
In a statement, a spokesperson for SAFE said, “We haven’t seen increases in actual state dollars. We have had increases in federal funding that is passed through and allocated at the state level, mostly VOCA (Victims of Crime Act), but those dollars aren’t from the State of Texas.”
The statement went on to say, “We have been told to expect a 30% decrease in the state funding that supports our sexual assault advocacy program, effective September 1. This is a difficult cut for us to try to absorb at any time, but devastating on such short notice during a pandemic.”