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SAN ANTONIO — Fresh off a pair of contentious special sessions on property taxes, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan says relations between the state’s top three leaders are “probably the best” they have been since he took the gavel in 2021.
“We all worked together,” Phelan said in an interview Thursday, reflecting on the deal on property taxes. “Everyone got a lot of what they wanted — not everything they wanted, but that’s the nature of negotiations between the two chambers and the governor. But I do think that everyone should be very happy.”
After a weekslong stalemate, Phelan, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick came together last month to deliver an $18 billion property-tax package. The leaders — known together as the “Big Three” — made their first joint appearance in a long time Wednesday to celebrate the legislation.
Still, the relationships are about to be tested again this fall, when Abbott has said he will call a third special session on education issues, including his push for “school choice,” a program to allow parents to use state funds to take their children out of public schools. That proposal has long divided the Senate and House, where Democrats and rural Republicans have fought it.
Asked if the House was any closer to passing education savings accounts — Abbott’s chief idea for school choice — than it was during the regular session, Phelan pointed to the work of a select education committee he appointed about two months ago.
“I think the last few hearings that committee had, that created some of the most productive conversations that we’ve had in years on the topic,” Phelan said, speaking with The Texas Tribune after appearing at the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO) summer conference.
“It’s still going to come down to whether there’s 76 votes, and that’s going to be incumbent upon members voting their districts,” Phelan added. “There’s always hope, but no guarantee.”
Asked if he was personally lobbying members to vote on way or another on the issue, he said “absolutely not” and that he wanted members to represent their districts like always.
Some lawmakers have expressed hope that the breakthrough on property tax relief will pave the way for more cooperation in the next special session.
Phelan said relations among the three leaders are “probably the best I’ve experienced in the last three and a half, four, years.” He said he called Abbott and Patrick on Thursday morning and “thanked them for their work and look forward to possibly come back together in October.”
While Abbott has not announced the date of the next special session, Phelan and other lawmakers have said they expect it to be in October after the Senate conducts its impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton. That trial is set to start Sept. 5.
Speaking on stage at the TIPRO conference, Phelan said he expects a “very robust discussion on education in October.” He said he hoped that any increase in teacher pay or how much money the state gives schools per student would be retroactive to this school year because lawmakers have already passed a budget that funds such items.
Back home in Southeast Texas, Phelan, R-Beaumont, is confronting what promises to be a contentious bid for reelection. He has already attracted two primary challengers, David Covey and Alicia Davis, who are trying to capitalize on conservative policy disappointments from the regular session and the House’s decision to impeach Paxton in May.
Phelan confirmed he was running for reelection and said his opponents’ backers were out of touch with his district.
“They live far, far away from Southeast Texas,” Phelan said. “I’ve delivered on every issue that matters to Southeast Texas, whether it’s infrastructure or education or flood mitigation, or whether it’s some of the more conservative issues that my primary voters care about on a daily basis — I’ve delivered on all of them.”
He added that his critics are welcome to their own opinions but not their own facts — and “the facts will speak for themselves in my reelection.”
Other House Republicans are preparing to face primary challenges, both from the usual far-right antagonists and perhaps from candidates more narrowly focused on school choice. Phelan said that will not change his policy of supporting GOP incumbents in the primary.
“We always support our Republican caucus,” Phelan said. “We have in the past. We will in the future.”
Disclosure: TIPRO has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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