Aug 18, 2020
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript August 18: Police Funding
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference today to address the Austin City Council’s decision to cut police funding. He announced a proposal for legislation that will freeze property tax revenue for cities that cut police funding. Read the transcript of his briefing here.
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Greg Abbott: (00:19)
Well, I want to thank everybody for joining with us here today. I’m proud to have by my side Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker Bonnen, as well as we have the host mayor today, Mayor Betsy Price and Senator Nelson. And we have state representatives Capriglione, Geren, Goldman, and Klick. Hopefully I got them all. And then we’re proud to have also with us Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus, as well as the Fort Worth Police Officer’s Association President, Manny Ramirez. Before I get into the subject that I want to talk about today, let me mention something about the importance of today in American history. Today, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of giving women the constitutional guarantee of the right to vote. And I have to stop and ponder and think about the ancestors and the grandmothers, maybe great grandmothers of Jane Nelson and Betsy Price, who probably were proud about having the ability to go vote.
Greg Abbott: (01:24)
But you have to wonder if somewhere in the back of their mind, they were thinking about their granddaughters and great granddaughters and their ability in the future, not only to be able to go vote, but you have to wonder if they pondered the possibility that their granddaughters and great granddaughters would one day also be able to earn the vote to be elected to the offices they have today. So congratulations-
Betsy Price: (01:47)
Greg Abbott: (01:47)
… Jane and Betsy, and this very special day for women across the entire country for the powerful role the past 100 years have ushered in for women involved in the political process. Today, we’re here to talk about the political process. Texas takes great pride in number one rankings, but not today. 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.
Greg Abbott: (02:28)
Austin also has a year to year increase in the percent rate of aggravated robberies, increasing by 14%, and robberies, increasing by 16%. When crime is on the rise, the last thing that we should do is to defund law enforcement. And yet that is exactly what the city of Austin did. Defunding the police puts residents in danger, and it invites lawlessness into our communities. Well, to maintain the safety that our communities deserve, today we are announcing a legislative proposal that will discourage defunding law enforcement agencies in Texas. The way this proposal works is this. Any city that defunds police departments will have its property tax revenue frozen at the current level. They will never be able to increase property tax revenue again if they defund police. Cities that endanger residents by reducing law enforcement should not then be able to turn around and go back and get more property tax dollars from those same residents whose lives the city just endangered.
Greg Abbott: (03:58)
Part of our collective job is to ensure the safety and the security of all Texans. We will not allow that core function to be undermined by cities that seek to defund and to dismantle the law enforcement agencies who have a sworn duty to serve and to protect our communities. We will ensure those communities will continue to be protected by law enforcement officers. Lieutenant Governor Patrick.
Dan Patrick: (04:36)
Thank you, Governor. We will be ready in the Senate to work on this legislation and make it a priority. When I think about what Austin has done, had any other mayor of any other city in Texas been as irresponsible as they have been, they would have chaos and their citizens would be in danger. It is only because of our DPS force of state troopers, hundreds that came to the aid and rescue of the brave officers at APD, that Austin didn’t turn into a potential Seattle or Portland. Hundreds, hundreds of state troopers, not just protecting the capital of the governor’s mansion, but protecting the city of Austin. Because not only has Austin defunded their police, but they’ve taken away vital weapons that they could use to disperse crowds.
Dan Patrick: (05:32)
What they have done in Austin should never happen in any city in the state. And we’re going to pass legislation to be sure that it never happens again. And I hope that legislation in its final form will roll back what they’ve done. People of Austin and Texas deserve to be protected by their police.
Greg Abbott: (05:51)
Thank you. Thank you. Speaker.
Dennis Bonnen: (05:53)
Thank you, Governor. Thank you, Lieutenant Governor. Of course, the Texas House will 100% support this legislation. I want to read a couple quotes Mayor Adler in 2016’s office put out a press release that said, “Austin alone would lose $15 million in 2016 if Senate bill two 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. Mayor Adler was quoted as saying, “We should not risk police, firefighting, EMS, parks, safety nets, and transportation projects all to save Austin homeowners only $2.69 cents a month. It’s risky, and not real tax relief.” So, $15 million was risky to the citizens of Austin in 2016, but $150 million of defunding public safety law enforcement is not in 2020.
Dennis Bonnen: (07:01)
Mayor Adler has gone on to make quotes as, “Our state should not cap the ability of cities to protect public life, public safety and other critical basic needs. We urge our legislators to protect public safety and other essential city services that are at risk under their proposals. Senate bill two is risky. First responders, services, police, fire, and EMS account for 70% of our city budget. Senate bill two will result in fewer police officers in our communities, longer response time to fire and medical emergencies and fewer tools and equipment our first responders need to keep our communities safe.”
Dennis Bonnen: (07:39)
So I asked Mayor Adler and the city of Austin why, when it was politically expedient to oppose property tax reform for the citizens they’re responsible for keeping safe in Austin in ’16, ’17, ’18, and ’19, but why now in 2020 does Mayor Adler support the socialist agenda to cut our police department? It is not okay. It is not acceptable. Law enforcement is not a tool of political agendas. And I would ask the city of Austin to quit using them as one, put them back to work, back on the streets, doing their public service to keep the people of Austin safe. Thank you, Governor.
Greg Abbott: (08:22)
Thank you. Senator.
Jane Nelson: (08:25)
Thank you, Governor. Public safety is I believe the most important function of government, and it concerns me greatly to see a city government whose job it is to keep our communities safe take a huge chunk out of police budget when I think this is a time when we need them the most. Now, I chair our Senate’s Finance Committee, but I’m a former chair for 14 years of our Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee. And I join those who are calling for funding for mental health and rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters. We are as a state making huge investments in those items in our state budget. And we’ll continue to do that. But you don’t have to defund law enforcement to accomplish those objectives. In fact, I have worked for many years in the area of domestic violence, and I can tell you that police officers are often the first on the scene for domestic violence calls when seconds count and it’s life or death.
Jane Nelson: (09:47)
And I worry about those victims and about sending social workers and counselors into dangerous situations without law enforcement at their side. It’s dangerous. And I don’t want to see that happen. It frightens me. The police are there to protect and to serve. Mayor Price and I go way back together, and we’re grandmothers now. And we teach our grandchildren to respect-
Betsy Price: (10:18)
Jane Nelson: (10:18)
… Law enforcement, and that they’re there to protect and to serve. And it’s been very difficult to explain to young children why people are allowed to destroy public property and set fires and riot in the streets. And yet, at the same time, we see cities turning their backs on police. It’s hard to explain to our children. If we defund our police, who will be there to protect us? So these actions, they defy common sense. They’re shortsighted. They put lives at risk. And Governor, I’m happy to hear that we’re going to address them next session. Thank you.
Greg Abbott: (11:02)
Thank you, Senator. Representative Goldman.
Craig Goldman: (11:05)
Thank you, Governor. Thank you, Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker for coming to Fort worth today. It’s quite appropriate, Governor, that you chose this building to come to, to hold this press conference, because it’s named after Bob Bolen, an incredible public servant who served this city, was the longest serving mayor until our current mayor. Bob Bolen will go down in history as our second longest serving mayor, at least currently. But he was all about public service. And he and Chief Wyndham worked together to make our streets safe, very much in the same way that today Mayor Price and Chief Kraus are working to make our streets safe here in Fort Worth. And as a result of that, the citizens of Fort Worth just recently appreciated what they’re doing so much by re-approving the half a cent sales tax in order to go to help fund our police.
Craig Goldman: (12:01)
That’s how much we’re doing things right here in Fort Worth. We appreciate the public servants who put on the uniform every single day. We appreciate the public servants who risk their life for our safety every single day. Fort Worth is doing it right. And what we’re here saying today is we’re not going to let a major city in the state of Texas turn into what Portland is doing, what Seattle is doing, as their police chief recently resigned because she didn’t have the backing of the city or the state. Chicago, where they have record police retiring. New York, where the mayor took $1 billion away from the police. What is that doing to the citizens of those cities? Talk to any of them. They don’t feel safe.
Craig Goldman: (12:48)
So I look forward to working with all the leaders of the state and in the House and the Senate in crafting legislation to letting all the major cities know that we need and we’re here to keep our citizens safe. And that’s going to be our number one priority. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Greg Abbott: (13:07)
Thank you, representative. You articulated actually one of the reasons why we chose to be in Fort Worth today, and that’s because Fort Worth is doing it right, and it’s doing it right because it has a fabulous, tough mayor running this city who is committed to supporting law enforcement, Mayor Betsy Price.
Betsy Price: (13:29)
Thank you, Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick and Speaker Bonnen and Senator Nelson, my fellow grandmother and college friend. I guess it’s safe to say it’s one tough grandmother, as you say that now. We’re here today to discuss public safety for our cities. And for me, and for most mayors, public safety is job one in this community. It’s not political. It’s common sense to keep your citizens safe. And I’m proud to support, along with my council, our men and women in uniform. Fort Worth Police Department is among the finest in the nation. Representative Goldman mentioned our crime control prevention district tax. It passed for 10 years overwhelmingly by 65% of our citizens. That means that our citizens truly do want law and order and public safety. We support the enhanced funding for public safety, for trainings. We do understand the concerns in the community of relationships with our police department. Chief Kraus and his team, as well as council, are working on those community relations.
Betsy Price: (14:41)
But we will not defund our police to solve those issues. We will find sources to help with that. Fort Worth has grown exponentially, and is one of the safest big cities in the nation because we provide appropriate resources for our police department. To remove that funding, in my opinion, would be very shortsighted. And truthfully, it would set this city back many years. In a day and age when much is demanded of our police officers and first responders, to take away the resources that they need for their core jobs would be irresponsible of a mayor and council.
Betsy Price: (15:21)
Furthermore, it’s very clear that the majority of our citizens want our police department funded. When they call 911, whether it’s domestic violence, child abuse, or a break in, they want a police officer to show up. We have a hope team and a crisis intervention team that also is made up with mental health professionals. But they will get, unless it’s a nonviolent call, they’ll get a police officer also. So Governor, thank you for helping us ensure, those of us who are working on the front lines every day, that these fine men and women will have what they need.
Greg Abbott: (15:57)
Thank you, Mayor. We’ll take some questions. Or not. Yes. Go ahead.
Speaker 7: (16:03)
Greg Abbott: (16:18)
Well, obviously I’m not there today. And my schedule is in flux tomorrow. We’ll just have to see. If not, I have no doubt that I have representatives who would be happy.
Governor, could you be more specific? If the city has an economic downturn, if their tax revenue is down, and if they have to cut all their departments and police is one of them, does that mean they’re not able to raise their tax rate? Can you be more specific?
Greg Abbott: (16:45)
This means absolutely any city in the state of Texas that defunds law enforcement will have their property tax revenue frozen as of that time. And that does mean yes, in the future, if they do face tough economic times, it means they will have no ability to increase that property tax revenue. What that does, Bud, is it ensures those cities know if they do make the decision to defund law enforcement, they are constricting their ability to ever be able to meet the other needs they have. Because the fact of the matter is if we have lawlessness in our cities caused by local decision making policies that reduce law enforcement officers, it’s going to cause chaos throughout their entire community. And we are not going to allow it. This will be an effective tool that effectively will prevent cities from being able to reduce funding support for law enforcement agencies.
Dan Patrick: (17:44)
Governor, could I just add something?
Greg Abbott: (17:45)
Dan Patrick: (17:47)
Just yesterday, in the city of Weslaco, a man walked in to a Walmart with a rifle, and not only did a private citizen who has a concealed carry license, but two police officers confronted that gunman, who first put the rifle down, as I understand it, and then pulled a pistol out and fired two shots. Those police officers took that shooter down. Had we not had police officers there yesterday and a private citizen, because the left also wants to take guns away from private citizens, not only defund police, the governor and I and the speaker would be in Weslaco today at a press conference where innocent citizens were killed. So I don’t want to hear about defunding police. We need every officer we can get on the street. We do not have enough now. We need to be recruiting. We need academies. We need to be investing in police, in training. We need to be doing all of these things, and any mayor of any city, like Mayor Adler in Austin, who is moving in the opposite direction is putting every citizen at risk, every citizen at risk.
Speaker 9: (19:02)
Lieutenant Governor, to that point, Governor Abbott as well, the thousands of activists, protestors who have passionately taken to the streets to push for a message to defund the police, is there any middle ground here? Is there anything you’re willing to do here near-sight?
Greg Abbott: (19:18)
So, I’ll start out addressing it by telling you this. And that is in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, I had the opportunity to meet with the family of George Floyd, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the black caucus in the Texas legislature to talk about some of the ideas and strategies that they will be working on in the upcoming session. First, we have to start with my perspective, and that is George Floyd was murdered. And what we need to do is to make sure that we do fully fund and fully employ law enforcement, but we provide law enforcement with the training, the tools and the strategies they need to prevent a replication of a George Floyd type situation in the future.
Greg Abbott: (20:03)
So, we need actually to invest more in law enforcement so they do have that training. And then second, we do need to evaluate some use of force strategies to make sure that strategies are not used in ways that kill someone who should not be killed. And then separate from that, I’ve made it clear to the legislative black caucus, as well as to the George Floyd family, that I am open to working on any strategies that will make Texas better. That said, I have been clear from day one, defunding law enforcement is never the answer. Reducing law enforcement is not the answer. Texas will not tolerate a reduction of law enforcement in the state of Texas. We need our law enforcement officers and we need them funded.
Speaker 10: (20:54)
Speaker 11: (20:55)
Governor, it’s pretty clear that the phrase defund police varies in definition from person to person. And as you mentioned, the most recent cry for it involves not only the killing of George Floyd, but to stem the tide of many people of color dying in incidents involving police brutality, as well as to increase the accountability among police departments. What is there in terms of balance that you say that you’re willing to do or to look at in order to somehow, and as you began, reach some type of solutions?
Greg Abbott: (21:43)
Sure. So if we have police brutality, we don’t need fewer police. We need less police brutality. And so we need to take action, whether it be as a legislature or in police departments or whatever the case may be. We do need to take action to ensure that law enforcement officers are trained in ways in which they will not engage in police brutality. But just because there is an act or maybe many acts of police brutality doesn’t mean that we eliminate or reduce or cut back on law enforcement. That means we need to do a better job of training those law enforcement officers to ensure they do not engage in acts police brutality.
Speaker 10: (22:22)
Governor, I know there’ve been discussions of moving some state offices out of Austin and out to the suburbs or out to other surrounding areas. Is that a reality if you’re in Austin safety and security in central Austin?
Greg Abbott: (22:35)
Did you say state officers?
State offices. All of the offices around that are the departments.
Greg Abbott: (22:44)
Sure. I’m trying to figure out, is your question broader than law enforcement?
No. My question is I know there’ve been discussions about them having a state office complex, a state government complex, outside of the city. [crosstalk 00:23:04]. Would you move more of the central state offices out of the city if there’s a safety and security breach?
Greg Abbott: (23:08)
Right. The goal, Bud, isn’t to engage in some movement of buildings. The goal is to ensure safe communities. And the way we ensure safe communities is to make sure we fully fund law enforcement, train them well, equip them well, and then have them do their job.
Speaker 10: (23:26)
Thanks guys. We got to go.
Speaker 12: (23:28)
Greg Abbott: (23:35)
I’ll answer this question just real quick. And that is listen, the challenges with the COVID backlog are largely a part of history. There were several reasons for the backlog. One is the capabilities of the Department of State Health Services were limited to accepting no more than 45,000 test cases per day. They have worked with a team to ensure that that was increased four or five fold. Because of that limitation of 45,000 per day, it meant that there were hundreds of thousands that did not get timely logged.
Greg Abbott: (24:18)
Separate from that, there has been an ongoing legacy based issue of private testers that were running tests, private labs, such as Quest Labs, for example, that were extremely slow in getting test results back, taking sometimes one to two weeks to get test results back. There was an announcement today by Quest Labs that they have now solved their problem, and they will be turning around results in one to two days as opposed to one to two weeks. State-based labs, as well as state affiliated medical centers, such as UT Southwestern in Dallas, such as medical centers in Houston and San Antonio and elsewhere, are working with the state to make sure that the state has a turnaround of one to two days with regard to test results.
Greg Abbott: (25:11)
Bottom line is this. And that is for maybe another few days, there could be some numbers, adjustments that are coming in, but the problems underlying that have now been solved.
Speaker 10: (25:26)
We got to go.
Greg Abbott: (25:27)
Yes, I have greater confidence today than I’ve ever had in their ability to make sure that they are fully capable of accounting for all tests and tests results and reporting very accurate results.