Tuesday, March 23, 2021

If conservatives are liberals who've been mugged, maybe liberals are just conservatives who enjoy government power a bit too much

Grits must admit, I don't get it. For years, Republicans in Texas have complained about high taxes, which at the local government level are largely driven by public-safety budgets. Then, over the last couple of years, Texas Republicans including the Governor have become obsessed with homelessness in Austin after the city decriminalized their public existence.

So when the city of Austin ratcheted back the police department budget by 4.6 percent and spent the savings on EMS and services for mental illness and homelessness, on its face one would think that would fall into a policy realm Republicans could live with: Reduce government spending and address Austin's homelessness problem.

Maybe state leaders felt outdone by Austin's budget cutting: After all, when they faced a budget contraction in 2017 much less severe than last year's COVID-based revenue decline, the Governor signed a bill reducing the Texas Department of Public Safety's budget by 4 percent. But no one then raised concerns state leaders wanted to "defund police."

Now, though, reversing three-generations of small-government, anti-taxation rhetoric, the Texas GOP has entered a Bizarro World where it seeks to punish cities that reduce budgets for public employees they favor (in most cities the highest paid type of public employee). Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave.

Consider three bills up this Thursday in the House State Affairs Committee:

HB 1900 by Goldman lets the Governor determine if a city defunded its police. There's no metric or standard for that in the bill. Once that determination is made, previously annexed areas can seek de-annexation elections, so in Austin's case, the city council could lose a bunch of Republican voters on its western fringe who are the main support for what passes for conservative candidates in this city. That improves the viability of more liberal candidates, meaning you get a Mayor Casar instead of a Mayor Adler. Again, this benefits/punishes whom, exactly?

HB 1900 would further freeze property taxes and electric rates of cities that "defund" police. Ironically, grassroots conservative activists from around the state have been calling on the Legislature to aggressively freeze local property taxes for years and voters of all stripes hate electric rate hikes. Will this bill now give them the mechanism they need to achieve their dreams? Will we begin to see cities around the state cutting police budgets because their constituents support a property tax and electric rate freeze? It's not out of the realm of possibility.

HB 2362 by Harris similarly restricts government spending at agencies which "defund" in ways that conservatives around the state have called for for years. From a grassroot conservative's perspective, it's like Austinites are being rewarded for defunding police with lower taxes. Why wouldn't voters in Fort Worth or Midland look at their own local tax situation and think, "I'll take a little of that"?

HB 3151 by Leman appears to assess whether cities are defunding but does not punish it.

Your correspondent backed Ronald Reagan in my first presidential election back in 1984, so I feel competent to compare the ideology of "Reagan conservatives" to what's happening today. There's not much comparison. The idea that it's "conservative" for state government to pass a law mandating permanent local-government budget increases beggars belief.

Back in the day when I fancied myself a Reagan Republican, we had a word for that philosophy:



Phelps said...


Anonymous said...

Don't you mean "Alright," In the words of our future Governor?

Anonymous said...

Imagine the Republican gnashing of teeth if it was a Democrat governor threatening to withhold funds from local governments that REFUSED to defund law enforcement.

Gadfly said...

Surely there's a Python sketch about this somewhere.