Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that the state is suing Harris County over its “Uplift Harris” guaranteed basic income pilot program that the county launched at the start of the year. 

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Paxton said:

This scheme is plainly unconstitutional. Taxpayer money must be spent lawfully and used to advance the public interest, not merely redistributed with no accountability or reasonable expectation of a general benefit. I am suing to stop officials in Harris County from abusing public funds for political gain.

In a response to the filing, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee issued the following statement: 

When corporations are given taxpayer dollars Republican leaders in Austin call it “economic development.” When governments use federal dollars to actually help people, Republican leaders in Austin call it socialism. I think the message Harris County residents have for AG Paxton is to lead in a way that’s going to help people or get out of the way. I will vigorously defend the county and this program in court.

The program was funded using $20.5 million in federal relief aid to give 1,900 families, who are 200 percent below the poverty line, $500 per month for 18 months. Applicants were required to live in one of the predetermined zip codes and could receive the money through direct deposit to their bank account or a prepaid debit card. 

The lawsuit cites the state constitution, which prohibits local jurisdictions from granting public money to an individual, and says that lottery-based selection is unconstitutional because it awards benefits based on arbitrary factors. 

Paxton is asking the court to halt the county from issuing payments under the program and deem it unconstitutional. 

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.