Politics

Gov. Greg Abbott’s State Legislature Budget Veto Is Unconstitutional, Democratic Lawmakers Say

Gov. Greg Abbott’s move will primarily affect the more than 2,100 full-time employees at the Texas Capitol — not the lawmakers he intended to punish.

The State Capitol is seen in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, June 1, 2021. State lawmakers are expected to return for a special session after Texas Democrats blocked one of the nation’s most restrictive new voting laws with a walkout.

Democratic state lawmakers say they’re considering legal action after Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the Texas Legislature last week, which critics say will hit legislative staffers and other Capitol employees the hardest.

Abbott slashed the funding after House Democrats staged a walk-out at the end of the legislative session, effectively killing GOP-backed voting laws, which critics have said amounted to voter suppression.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said the governor may be violating the state’s separation of powers by forcing the shutdown of a competing branch of government.

"There's clearly going to be legal action looked at here," Howard said. "My understanding is, there's certain steps that have to be taken for standing to occur for certain people to be able to actually file a lawsuit.”

Lawmakers' salaries are guaranteed under the state constitution, but others employed at the Capitol do not have that luxury.

Those affected by the governor's veto include employees of the Legislative Council, the Capitol cafeteria staff, staffers of all 31 members of the Texas Senate and all 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives, and more.

"(Abbott) is using political theater, in my opinion, to do something that actually threatens the livelihoods of over 2,000 state employees and their families," Howard said. “These employees are getting caught in the crossfire of the governor’s unconstitutional conduct.”

In a statement after his veto signature, Abbott made clear that the defunding was a direct response to Democratic lawmakers derailing the legislation.

“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,” Abbott wrote. “I therefore object to and disapprove of these appropriations.”

The veto would impact both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Funding for 2,109 full-time capitol staffers and other government employees will run out Aug. 31, unless the courts or state lawmakers intervene.

“If the governor does not restore the money…there is no legislative branch of government,” said state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston. “Even if he wanted to come back after Sept. 1, after the cuts have come in place — the legislators will be here, but who’s going to run the offices? Who’s going to draft the bills? Who’s going to even file the paperwork in the clerk’s office to get this legislation moving?"

Wu said he's already told his staffers they're free to go on unemployment or look for other work.

"I've told them I do not expect them to work without pay," he said. "Forcing them to work without pay is slavery."

Both Democratic lawmakers raised the concern that Abbott could be setting a precedent in his action that could affect the third branch of Texas government as well.

"How much harder will it be for him to simply say, ‘you know what, next time, I'll delete the judiciary too’?'" Wu said.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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