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Texas Republican leaders said Friday they were extending “an additional month of funding” for the Legislature as a deadline to reinstate those dollars vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott nears, which could cost some 2,100 state workers their salaries and benefits.
The announcement Friday by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan comes a day ahead of the beginning of a second special session, where it’s still unknown whether enough state lawmakers in the lower chamber will convene in time to restore the funding long term.
The funding issue stems from a veto from Abbott after House Democrats first broke quorum in the final hours of the regular legislative session that ended in May, which prevented the chamber from passing a GOP elections bill. Abbott vetoed a section of the state budget, Article X, that funds the Legislature, its staff and legislative agencies.
Citing an emergency, the Legislative Budget Board requested the transfer of funds, according to a memo dated Aug. 6 from Abbott responding to the LBB’s proposal. Funds amounting to at least $12.6 million will be transferred from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to the Senate, the House, and legislative agencies such as the LBB, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Library.
Abbott referenced his veto in that memo, reiterating his position that “funding should not be provided for those who quit their jobs early and leave the state with unfinished business, exposing taxpayers to higher costs for additional legislative sessions.”
“However, in order to ensure the Legislature is fully resourced to do the work of the next special session,” he wrote, “I recognize that the partial restoration the Legislative Budget Board had proposed is necessary.”
The extension announced Friday means that those legislative employees and legislative agencies will have funding intact through Sept. 30 instead of Sept. 1, when the next two-year state budget takes effect.
Abbott placed restoring the funding of the Legislature on both the first and now second special session agendas. Plans to pass legislation to address the issue during the first overtime round that ended Friday were derailed after House Democrats broke quorum a second time to block the controversial elections legislation.
If enough members are present to conduct official business in the House when the Legislature reconvenes for a second special session, lawmakers could pass a supplemental budget to restore funding. It would also need a signoff from Abbott before it could go into effect.
The issue could also be resolved by the Texas Supreme Court, where a group that includes legislative Democrats has asked the all-Republican court to override Abbott’s veto.
In a statement responding to Friday’s announcement, state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, dismissed the action, saying it did not “change the fact that [Abbott’s veto] ... is a violation of the separation of powers and a disgraceful effort to hold the public employees of our state as hostages.”
“We urge the Texas Supreme Court to take immediate action to decide whether our state will remain a democratic republic,” he said, “or if it’s Gov. Abbott’s alone to control.”
Should time run out before lawmakers pass legislation or the court weighs in, the salaries and benefits for over 2,100 employees will be at risk, as House Administration Chair Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, noted in a July 26 memo that also detailed other services and contracts that could be terminated.
“The implications to the operation of the House are significant,” Metcalf wrote, outlining the legislative business that could be canceled if funding is not restored, such as lease payments for members’ district offices, office supplies and cleaning services for the House.
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