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Austin City Council's decision last month to cut the police budget by 5% continues to rankle.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a pledge on Thursday opposing police budget cuts and invited candidates in the upcoming election to join him in doing so.
"[Law enforcement officers] preserve calm amidst chaos," Abbot said at a press conference, citing the 19th anniversary of 9/11, which is tomorrow. "So it is particularly offensive that some cities are disrespecting and even defunding our law enforcement agencies in communities across the state."
Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday applauded the pledge effort. "I think it is brilliant, and it shows your weak leadership and your weak personalities if you do not sign this," he said.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the pledge effort "political theatre intended to scare and distract us from important public safety conversations" about the pandemic response and police reform. He also added that "Austin is the safest big city in Texas and among the few safest in the country."
Full statement here: https://t.co/bPBGpco3Qc https://t.co/U0LOCTKJra— Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask. (@Mayor Adler | 😷wear a mask.)1599768711.0
Chris Harris, director of criminal justice programs at Texas Appleseed and a member of the city's public safety commission, tweeted on Thursday that police unions "are the last folks to trust about what's safe" given their opposition to reform.
Police unions now claiming a minor police budget cut (that hasn't happened yet) makes Austin unsafe saw nothing wro… https://t.co/dlhrBcA4m1— Chris Harris (@Chris Harris)1599763455.0
Abbott also announced a legislative proposal that would remove a city's annexation powers if it defunds its police department. "It should leave Austin with no choice to restore the cuts that they have already made to law enforcement," he said.
This is the second such legislative proposal that Abbott has supported. Earlier this month, he tweeted that he was considering a bill that would place the Austin Police Department under state control.
Austin City Council voted unanimously last month to immediately cut approximately $20 million—or about 5%—of the Austin Police Department budget, including eliminating funding from three planned police cadet classes. The APA decried the decision, writing in an Aug. 14 Facebook post that the upcoming—and now canceled—cadet class would have been the first majority-minority in APD's history.
The police academy has come under fire in recent years—prior to the more recent movement to defund police—for its "fear-based" and "paramilitary" approach to training, discriminatory recruiting practices and attrition rates.
Council members also put an additional $130 million into two transitional funds that will allow several of APD's traditional duties to continue while officials work out which responsibilities to move out from under police oversight.
"The recent deaths of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer and our own officer-involved shooting death of Mr. Michael Rmaos have amplified the call for justice in our community in ways we cannot ignore," City Manager Spencer Cronk wrote in the proposed FY 2020-21 budget.
Even with the approved cuts, the city of Austin allocates nearly 40% of its general funds to police, more than double what it spends on its next largest expense.
Austin spends more of its general fund on police than anything else.(Austin Finance Online)
Last year, Austin spent more per resident on the police than any of the four largest cities in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune. Between 2008 and 2018, its violent crime rate fell 25%. This year through July, there were 29 homicides, compared with 19 during the same period last year.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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