Gov. Greg Abbott has vetoed the part of the state budget bill that would fund the Texas Legislature.
The action came after Abbott had threatened to do so at the end of May, after the legislative session ended abruptly when members of the Texas House Democrats left the chamber, causing bills, including an election reform bill he strongly favored, to expire.
“Texans don’t run from a legislative fight, and they don’t walk away from unfinished business,” Abbott said in a statement late in the day Friday. “Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session. I therefore object to and disapprove of these appropriations.”
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The budget is to take effect Sept. 1. Abbott is expected to push the voting restrictions bill again during a special session.
“Texas has a governor, not a dictator or emperor,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said in a statement after the veto. “The tyrannical veto of the legislative branch is the latest indication that Governor Greg Abbott is simply out of control.”
In addition to cutting the $600 monthly salaries for lawmakers, Abbott’s veto of Article 10 of Senate Bill 1 also cuts the budget for thousands of employees at agencies that support efforts at the Capitol, including legislative staff, support services, the Legislative Budget Board, Legislative Council and the state auditor’s office.
“By placing a termination date on the employment of all legislative staff, the governor is cutting off services to millions of Texans,” Turner said, adding that the caucus is exploring every option, including legal action.
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Abbott said last week he would bring lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session in September or October for redistricting after census data is released in August and to allocate roughly $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief money. The governor has signaled he expects lawmakers to pass the elections bill and legislation intended to change the state’s bail system when they reconvene at an as yet unscheduled earlier special session.
The elections measure, known as Senate Bill 7 in the regular session, would end drive-thru voting and overnight voting, and it would limit early voting on Sundays and mail-in balloting. Democrats said it would disproportionately affect Black, Latino and older voters; Republicans say the measure would protect election integrity and reduce opportunities for voter fraud.
In an interview June 2 with the USA TODAY Network, Abbott said lawmakers could restore legislative funding during a special session before the two-year budget kicks in on Sept. 1. That means that if Democrats again boycott the special session on the elections measure to again thwart its passage, Abbott’s spending veto would stick and that no one who works in the legislative branch of government would be paid after Sept. 1.
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House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, told the Texas Tribune on Friday that a veto of the entire Legislature’s budget would hurt the wrong people while lawmakers, whose $600-per-month pay is written into the Texas Constitution, would still get their paychecks.
“My concern is how it impacts staff, especially those who live here in Austin, which is not an inexpensive place to live and raise your family and children,” Phelan, a former legislative staffer, told the Tribune. “And the agencies it impacts — Sunset, Legislative Reference Library, Lege Council — I’m just concerned how it impacts them because they weren’t the ones who decided that we were gonna break quorum, it wasn’t their decision, right?”
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, is among those questioning the constitutionality of Abbott’s veto.
“Abbott’s irresponsible veto of funding for the legislative branch of state govt is political theater w/ serious consequences for >2000 state employees who help #txlege members do their jobs, and also threatens our democratic form of govt based on 3 equal branches,” Howard tweeted.
But the Tribune reports that courts in other states have upheld vetoes of legislative budgets by governors of both parties. Two states, Hawaii and Michigan, have constitutional statutes that bar governors from vetoing or reducing legislative or judicial appropriations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas does not.
About this story
This article includes material from the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.