(Charlie L. Harper III)

Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to "protect our capital city" with legislation and state law enforcement agencies after the Austin City Council on Thursday cut the police budget by $20 million and promised to move some duties and up to $130 million more to other departments next year.


In a strongly-worded statement issued late Thursday, Abbott lashed out at the council for pushing a political agenda with what he described as the "decision to defund" the police department.

"Some cities are more focused on political agendas than public safety," Abbott said. "Austin's decision puts the brave men and women of the Austin Police Department and their families at greater risk and paves the way for lawlessness. Public safety is job one, and Austin has abandoned that duty. The legislature will take this issue up next session, but in the meantime, the Texas Department of Public Safety will stand in the gap to protect our capital city."

The Austin Police Department is still funded. The city cut new and open positions, totaling $20 million, about 5 percent of its $400 million budget, for the next six months. The budget also directed city officials to propose up to $130 million more, with the goal of shifting some duties out of the department, such as mental health and emergency response.

The $20 million goes in part to emergency medical services and homeless and mental health programs.

A budget rider also promised the return of the cadet class next year and improved training for officers, both of which were lauded by the Greater Austin Crime Commission, a sharp critic of cutting police funding.

The commission criticized the decision to cut police personnel, praised the increased funding for other areas such as domestic violence, and said it would be involved in discussions on department reform.

"The Greater Austin Crime Commission supports the additional funding and public safety investments in the fiscal year 2021 city budget, including community health paramedics, family violence, mental health response and violence prevention," the commission said in a statement. "The Crime Commission is reassured that the community will have input in the process to evaluate police operations and reforms in the months ahead."

Abbott did not say what laws they might pass that would govern the actions of the council or enforcement of the law in the city.

Attorney General Ken Paxton also struck back at the decision, calling it "virtue-signaling" and a "political haymaker driven by the pressures of cancel culture."

It's not the first time state officials have clashed with Austin Mayor Steve Adler - or previous mayors, for that matter - over city policies. For the most part, and with occasional exceptions, legislators stay out of the official business of individual cities, preferring to let local lawmakers handle local business.

But Austin is unique in that lawmakers have year-round offices in the Capitol in addition to living here at least six months every two years for the session. And because state agencies are largely based here, lawmakers occasionally dabble in Austin issues - airport politics, homeless policies and the Capitol View Corridor, to name a few.

The budget was approved unanimously by council members, who vowed to use the new budget to enact reforms - which largely focus on moving non-police duties out of the department - after violent clashes between officers and anti-police brutality protesters earlier this summer.

"We did it!" Council Member Greg Casar posted on social media after the vote.

(Emma Freer)

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