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Inside Texas Politics: The fight over budgets and police funding, in city halls and at the state capitol

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson wants to cut salaries at City Hall instead of cutting the police overtime budget.
Credit: WFAA
Dallas Police Department

The same uncomfortable conversation taking place inside city halls all across Texas is turning into an all-out brawl in Dallas. 

City leaders are trying to determine the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.   

One of the main sticking points in Dallas is whether to cut around $7 million from the Dallas Police Department’s overtime budget.

A majority of the council favors the cut, but Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said he’s been against it from the beginning.

“When the City Council came along and suggested that we cut it by 25%, I made it very clear, and I’ve continued to make it clear, that I think that’s the wrong thing to do in the middle of a violent crime spike like we are in in Dallas right now,” Johnson said on Inside Texas Politics.

Johnson recently suggested an amendment to the budget that would add money by cutting salaries at City Hall. 

He said he would spend that money on public safety, including keeping the DPD overtime budget at the proposed level, improving streets and reducing the property tax rate.

“I don’t think we should cut salaries for anyone making less than $60,000," said Johnson. "And I don’t think our salary cuts should involve any more furloughs or layoffs.”

The mayor makes $80,000 a year. He said he too would take a pay cut.

Johnson said the public is in favor of his proposal to cut salaries.

"It has tremendous support from the people," he said. "I'm here to represent the people of Dallas. I was elected by the people. I was not elected by the bureaucracy."

But council members nearly unanimously rejected the mayor’s amendment, so the debate will continue in Dallas, like so many other cities across the state.

It is, after all, 2020.

And nothing is coming easy… for citizens or city halls.

The Dallas City Council votes Sept. 23 on the final budget. 

Texas Democrats say Abbott is distracting from real issues with defunding pledge

The fight over police funding continues at all levels of government in Texas. 

Gov. Greg Abbott recently asked citizens and every candidate running for office to sign a pledge to back the blue and oppose “defunding police departments.” 

Democrats, in turn, call it a political stunt.

“This is simply a manufactured issue intended to distract and divert attention from Greg Abbott and Donald Trump’s failed record on COVID-19 and the thousands of people who’ve lost their lives and the millions of people who’ve lost their jobs,” Rep. Chris Turner said on Inside Texas Politics. “And that’s what this election is going to be about.”

Turner, a Democrat who represents Dist. 101, chairs the House Democratic caucus.

He said the “defunding the police” movement won’t hurt Democrats in the suburbs because he doesn’t know of any Democrat who actually agrees with the idea.

Instead, he said, they support police reform.

There will be plenty of legislation to vote on during the next session in January, including the George Floyd Act. The proposal would ban choke holds and require an officer to intervene if they see another officer engaging in improper behavior.

Back in August, the governor also threatened to push legislation that would freeze property taxes in any city that cut a police budget after the city of Austin did so.

Turner doesn’t see that passing either.

“We need a governor to focus on his job," he said. "If he wants to worry about what the Austin City Council is doing, he should run for the Austin City Council.”

Democrats have a chance to take the Texas House

Beto O’Rourke, former Democratic U.S. Representative, is no stranger to campaigning in Texas. 

He said Democrats in Texas are operating on three major fronts for the 2020 election: President, U.S. Senate and a majority in the Texas House.

One of the three, O’Rourke told the Jasons, is more than wishful thinking.

“The state House is the most exciting and will be the most impactful and also happens to be the most realistic," said O'Rourke. 

Currently, Democrats are down nine seats in the state House, after picking up 12 in 2018, when O'Rourke ran against Cruz.

"But in 2018, I also happened to win more votes than did Ted Cruz in nine of those state house districts that we need to pick up this year," O'Rourke said. "So, you know, by the math not only can we do this, in some ways, we've done this before.”

The conversation with Beto O'Rourke is from this week's episode of Y'all-itics. Listen to the full conversation and learn where to subscribe here