Texas could freeze property taxes in cities that defund police, governor warns

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned cities that defund their police departments that the state will freeze their property taxes, a move meant to deter cities from shrinking police budgets.

(CNN)Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has announced plans to freeze property taxes in cities that vote to defund their police departments. The state is particularly dependent on property taxes for revenue, so the move could be stifling.

"Any city that defunds police departments will have its property tax revenue frozen at the current level," Abbott said this week. "They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again if they defund police."
His announcement came one week after Austin city officials voted to cut the Austin Police Department budget by a third and funnel those funds into social services.
Abbott said the move to defund police departments -- which involves reallocating funds from police departments to services like education, housing and health care, rather than abolishing police departments outright -- "puts Texans in danger and invites lawlessness into our cities."
    "Cities that endanger their residents should not be able to turn around and raise more taxes from those same Texans," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

    Austin votes to defund police

    The Austin City Council voted last week to cut $150 million from the Austin police budget.
    Of those cuts, $21 million will be redistributed to community resources like housing, violence prevention and mental health care, $49 million will be used to fund alternative community safety measures and $80 million will go toward transferring some police services, like forensics and 911 dispatch, to civilian control.
    Calls to defund police have echoed through Austin, the state capital, since protests against racism and police brutality began there in late May.
    Those protests have sometimes turned violent. At one Black Lives Matter demonstration in July, 28-year-old protester Garrett Foster was shot and killed after he approached a civilian car with a rifle. And in May, Austin police fired "less-lethal" beanbag munition at 20-year-old college student Justin Howell, leaving him with a fractured skull and brain damage, according to his brother.
    Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Abbott's announcement was meant to "make us scared" and that the city made those police cuts "because safety is our primary concern."
    "It's about redefining public safety into a conversation that centers on the safety of the most marginalized among us," Adler tweeted. "It's about culture, it's about reimagining & it's about trust. It's about black lives matter. It's about searching for the promise of finding & institutionalizing justice ... 1000s of Austinites marched in the street demanding justice & action."

    Property taxes are essential in Texas

    Texas doesn't have a state property tax, but local tax offices decide local property taxes, which are used to fund schools and other city services and infrastructure.
    Property taxes are "the largest own-source of revenue" for cities, school districts and special districts like water and sewer authorities, according to the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture by economic think tanks, the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.
      They're especially important in Texas, where property taxes make up more than 30% of state and local revenue, according to the Tax Policy Center.
      Freezing property taxes means they won't increase, which can happen if a neighborhood's value increases or local laws change. Currently, only residents ages 65 and older or those who are disabled are eligible for property tax freezes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.