Judge Lina Hidalgo asking county attorney’s office to consider authority to require commissioners to attend court meeting

HOUSTON – In an attempt to pass a budget for Harris County, Judge Lina Hidalgo said she is considering “any and all action” that would bring commissioners into Commissioners Court to allow a vote that she said would fund the budget.

For the second time in weeks, Republican Harris County Commissioners Tom S. Ramsey and R. Jack Cagle skipped Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, preventing the Democratic majority from adopting a tax rate and budget for the next fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1. As a result, Democratic commissioners and Hidalgo said they had no choice but to adopt what they called an “annualized short fiscal year 2022 budget.”

According to Hidalgo, the vote will “prevent millions of dollars in potential budget cuts to our law enforcement agencies, health care system, flood control, veterans services, and other critical services needed to protect the health, safety and well-being of Harris County residents.”

Hidalgo released the following statement on the matter Monday:

“I’m asking the County Attorney’s Office to review Commissioners Court’s authority compelling or requiring commissioners to attend the meeting in order to allow us to fund the county. Nothing is off the table at this point. Including looking into the County’s ability to issue a contempt order if they do not appear for the vote.

I have submitted a letter to the County Attorney’s Office Asking that they look into the options and present them to us tomorrow. And if I have the authority to issue a notice for them to appear and a requirement for them to appear, I will do so.”

On Monday, Hidalgo spoke in front of Ben Taub Hospital, sharing her concerns about the budget impasse.

She said the county only has two of the five level one trauma centers required by the American College of Surgeons.

According to Hidalgo, without a vote from her Republican colleagues, the county cannot help fund the public health system and emergency services.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis issued the following statement on the impasse Tuesday:

“I have implored my colleagues to do their jobs and stand up for their constituents. Unfortunately, these calls have landed on deaf ears. The ‘No-Show Commissioners’ have chosen political expediency over leadership. They’ve placed their own political fortunes over the needs of this county and their own constituents.

By forcing the county to revert back to a budget that doesn’t meet our current needs and challenges, we can’t do what’s needed now to fully serve and protect Harris County families or plan for the future. This political stunt forces draconian cuts to essential services for public safety, elections, health care, flood protection, pollution control, and other services that Harris County communities deserve and rely on to stay safe and healthy.”

Ramsey responded Tuesday, saying “These are not actions of people who want to compromise.”

Read Ramsey’s full statement:

My colleagues claim they want to ‘lower the temperature’ and allow ‘cooler minds to prevail’ yet they pull dozens of Precinct 3 and 4 projects, and delay them for the second court in a row. These projects include pedestrian safety improvements, flood risk reduction projects for underserved areas, and even block payments and opportunities for Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises. Commissioner Garcia claims he had questions about the projects, yet he didn’t ask a single one to the County Engineer. The projects could have and should have been pushed through as they do not relate to tax or budget discussions.

These are not actions of people who want to compromise. These are actions of bullies. They continue to push false narratives of ‘cuts’ to healthcare and law enforcement, but in reality – there are no cuts. We are receiving the same amount of revenue, if not more due to new construction revenue.

Many are concerned about inflation and an increase in operational costs, but this can be mitigated by addressing the already bloated budget, which includes:

- PFM Consulting Contract: expended over $11M to date

- HART Program: $5M (duplicates the award-winning CORE Program)

- Public Defender: $10M (Public Defender did not request a budget increase, but received funds that were slated for the District Attorney’s Office anyway)

That’s just a small preview. We can meet our financial needs by prioritizing the budget and cutting the waste. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

About the Author:

Prairie View A&M University graduate with a master’s degree in Digital Media Studies from Sam Houston State. Delta woman. Proud aunt. Lover of the color purple. 💜