AUSTIN – Moments before the final gavel fell in the Texas House to close out this year’s legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would veto funding in the state budget for lawmaker salaries, an exclamation point to a dramatic final weekend. The announcement came hours after House Democrats […]
AUSTIN – Moments before the final gavel fell in the Texas House to close out this year's legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would veto funding in the state budget for lawmaker salaries, an exclamation point to a dramatic final weekend.
The announcement came hours after House Democrats vacated the Capitol to prevent a vote on a divisive bill to rewrite the state's election laws. The unusual move came amid mounting tensions between House and Senate leaders over the passage of several Republican priority bills.
"I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature," Abbott wrote in a tweet. "Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities. Stay tuned."
It was a fittingly tumultuous end to a tumultuous session that saw Republicans pursue an aggressively conservative agenda, steamrolling Democrats to deliver victories on abortion, gun rights, a camping ban and "defund the police" movements — the latter two issues a direct swipe at Austin and its progressive leaders.
Senate Republicans also employed a little-used parliamentary maneuver to save a GOP bill limiting the way race can be taught in schools, approving House Bill 3979 on the session's 137th day even though the Texas Constitution prohibits passage after the 135th day.
Outnumbered Democrats scratched out victories where they could, employing late-session delaying tactics to halt passage of GOP bills targeting transgender youths, voting restrictions and limitations on bail, knowing any victory could be short-lived with a Republican governor able to reset deadlines by calling a special session.
Abbott has vowed to bring lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session to pass the elections bill and legislation intended to change the state's bail system, which also died as the clock struck midnight Sunday, the deadline for passing legislation.
The Legislature already is scheduled to convene for a special session later this year to redraw the state's political boundaries and to allocate roughly $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding. Abbott has not said whether he will add these new priorities to the agenda for this session, or bring lawmakers back earlier.
While Abbott's veto message appears to be revenge for Democrats walking off the floor on Sunday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick placed the blame on House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, for allowing the bills to die. Patrick presides over the Senate while Phelan leads the House.
"For five months, nothing happened in that other chamber and here is where we ended," he said late Sunday. "We're not going to let that happen again, whether we're here 30 days or multiple sessions, we're not going to let that happen again. We're not going to be played by their bad management of their calendar."
Abbott has until June 20 to sign or veto legislation approved by lawmakers during the regular legislative session. He does not have to sign bills in order for them to become law, but affixing his signature to a bill is a show of support for the legislation.
Texas also gives the governor the authority to line-item veto any bills that allocate state dollars, namely the massive two-year budget approved by lawmakers during each session.
This year's $248.6 billion budget is divided into 10 articles for different purposes, like Education, Health and Human Services and the Judiciary. Abbott has threatened to veto Article X, which includes $410.2 million to fund the legislative branch over the next two years.
"If we have 3 branches of government in Texas (who are supposed to check each other), and you dissolve one of those branches, then you are only one step away from a Monarchy," said Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, in a tweet. "But, maybe that was the plan all along."
The budget covers the next two fiscal years, starting on Sept. 1 and the funding in jeopardy includes salaries for state lawmakers. State legislators make $600 a month, or $7,200 annually.
In addition to salaries for lawmakers and legislative employees, the money pays for numerous entities that support lawmakers in their work at the Capitol: the Legislative Budget Board, Legislative Council, the Commission on Uniform State Laws, the Sunset Advisory Commission, the State Auditor's Office and the Legislative Reference Library.
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, called Abbott's threat "a rather ridiculous statement to have made."
"It’s hard for me to think that there’s any true effort of leveraging, saying that we will defund the branch of government that represents the people in order to get y'all to represent the people," Howard said during a Monday afternoon press conference. "It’s nonsensical. I can’t even respond to it.”
Contributing: Nicole Cobler, Austin-American Statesman