Texas budget solution? Steal from car theft prevention fund

A program credited with cutting car thefts in half across Texas may be on the chopping block.

The Texas Automobile Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority, created in 1991, pays for about 200 police officers statewide to focus on car-related crime prevention. Vehicle owners pay $1 a year on their insurance renewals to fund the program, which offers grants to cities and counties — including Tarrant County.

In a proposal under consideration by state legislators, Texans would still pay the $1 a year but the program would be suspended and $18 million a year generated by the fee would go toward the state's budget crisis.

It's the latest bad news for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, which is also dealing with an expected $38 million budget shortfall for the next two years. The shortfall was caused by inaccurate revenue projections for new vehicle registration fees that are scheduled to take effect in September.

Supporters of the theft prevention program say officers whose salaries are covered by the fund could lose their jobs. And they say Texas will again become a haven for theft rings.

Last year, about 76,000 cars and trucks were stolen in Texas — compared with 164,000 in 1991.

"Any commander in the state can tell you, these funds keep a lot of chop shops at bay," said Tommy Hansen, a Galveston County Sheriff's Department lieutenant and past president of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators.

DMV board Chairman Victor Vandergriff of Arlington said this week that he is optimistic the agency can work through its problems, just as others will. As the state government deals with a multibillion-dollar shortfall, lawmakers are weighing how much to slash from education and other programs. "We took a hit, as did any agency, but we're in pretty good shape," he said.

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