Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued Harris County for instituting an unlawful “guaranteed income” program that redistributes public money in a manner that violates the Texas Constitution. 

Announced by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in 2023, the program would randomly select 1,928 eligible Harris County residents by lottery to receive $500 cash payments for 18 months with “no strings attached.” The money itself comes from the $20.5 million the county received through the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act which was specifically intended to be used for COVID-19 relief initiatives. The program was met with additional backlash when it was announced that certain classifications of noncitizens would be eligible for the handouts.

The Texas Constitution expressly forbids “any county, city, town or other political corporation or subdivision of the State … to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual.” Harris County’s program to give public money away with no conditions, no control over expenditure of that money, and no guarantee of public benefit is prohibited. The Constitution also provides that everyone has “equal rights, and no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive separate public emoluments.” This lottery-based handout violates the Texas Constitution because the selection of recipients is inherently arbitrary. County governments have limited authority to act and, like all governments, can only act in accordance with the Constitution. Harris County has exceeded that authority. 

“This scheme is plainly unconstitutional,” said Attorney General Paxton. “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.” 

To read the filing, click here.