AUSTIN, Texas — In this edition of Texas This Week, we break down the priorities Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick laid out in their inaugural addresses.
Three Things To Know In TX Politics
1. Texas Senate and House file budget legislation
When Texas lawmakers meet every two years, they are only constitutionally required to pass one bill: a balanced state budget. This session, they have an additional $32.7 billion to spend for fiscal years 2024 and 2025.
On Wednesday, State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and State Rep. Greg Bonnen, MD (R-Friendswood) filed similar but slightly different budget proposals. Both chambers are proposing the State spend $130.1 billion, leaving more than $50 billion on the table.
The Senate version of the budget includes $15 billion for property tax relief, including money to increase the homestead exemption to $70,000, $4.6 billion on border security operations and $600 million for school safety initiatives. Lawmakers will spend the next few months working to pass the budget.
2. Texas power grid is a priority for Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick
The state's power grid was a major topic of discussion this week starting at the governor and lieutenant governor's inauguration, where both Republicans noted that after the grid failure of 2021, it needs additional improvements to provide electricity to the state's growing population.
The very next day, a report by the Dallas Fed found the grid is vulnerable to failing during extreme weather. Then on Thursday, the Public Utility Commission approved a controversial plan that will allow power generators to sell credits to electricity realtors in order to produce more power when demand is high.
The idea is to incentivizing generators to produce more and build more power plants, but the move did not go over well with Georgetown State Sen. Charles Schwertner, who quickly sent a letter stating the plan is a "substantial departure" from the law legislators passed. The plan still needs lawmaker approval.
3. Texas universities ban TikTok
The University of Texas and Texas A&M University made national headlines this week when university leaders followed through with a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott to ban TikTok. The governor sent a letter to State agencies last month, banning use of the video-sharing app on campus wi-fi and networks.
TikTok is owned by a Chinese company called Byte-Dance. The governor and federal government have expressed concerns about the company sharing user data with the Chinese government. In December, President Joe Biden also approved a TikTok ban on government devices.
A spokesperson for TikTok says the bans are "based on unfounded falsehoods."
Patrick Svitek of The Texas Tribune discusses legislative priorities
Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took their oaths of office Tuesday at the Texas State Capitol. During their inaugural addresses, the state's top two leaders talked about their legislative priorities for the session.
Ashley Goudeau: We're still waiting for the governor and lieutenant governor to officially declare their priorities for this legislative session, but we got some insight during their inaugural addresses. So, let's start with the governor. Was there anything he highlighted that stood out to you?
Patrick Svitek: "The main thing that stood out to me from the governor's speech was his discussion of the power grid. He seemed to acknowledge that it will be a top issue this legislative session, you know. And that is notable because he was, you know, very quiet about it in his reelection campaign. He's been very quiet about it in recent weeks after his his reelection campaign. And that was as the lieutenant governor was very plainly saying it would be a priority for him going into this session to increase the reliability of the grid. And so to hear Abbott kind of finally acknowledge what had be, what has become obvious, that the grid is going to be a big issue, that was notable to me."
Goudeau: You mentioned a little bit, the lieutenant governor also talking about the grid. But what else about the things he mentioned – because he mentioned several things in his address – what stood out to you there?
Svitek: "You know, I think what stood out to me the most in his speech was perhaps how animated he got and how strongly he talked about this proposal to either eliminate or restrict tenure for public college professors if they have kind of a, a political viewpoint that lieutenant governor disagrees with. He was you know, I think this started out as a push to ban or to, you know, kind of crack down on professors that teach critical race theory. But we also saw the lieutenant governor say in this speech that, you know, he doesn't want Texas to have professors that, you know, believe capitalism is bad or that believe, as he said, America is evil. And so, it was somewhat of a doubling down on that promise that we've heard before to go after tenure.
I'm really curious to see if that manifests itself in a serious legislative proposal this session that gets any traction."
Goudeau: Talking about the House a little bit, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan previously talked with reporters about some of his priorities, even though the top bills in the House still haven't been filed yet either. But how do, you know, the things that he wants to do, how does that compare, you think, to the governor and the lieutenant governor?
Svitek: "Well, I think Phelan has some, definitely has some common ground with them. I mean, I think that he wants to focus on property tax relief with the budget surplus. He's also interested in infrastructure funding. You know, we've heard about property tax relief and infrastructure from the governor and lieutenant governor as well. So, on those big picture items, I think that they're aligned. But Phelan also has some priorities that, you know, at least how he talks about them are a little different than how the governor and lieutenant governor, may talk about the topics.
Phelan, you know, is really the only one of these three seriously talking about the issue of health care. And while he's not proposing anything that would be as dramatic as, you know, expanding Medicaid, for example, he is prioritizing trying to extend postpartum care for new mothers to 12 months, which is something the House tried last session but the Senate cut in half to six months, I believe. And Phelan also talks about criminal justice reform. You heard that in his opening day speech – which is something that the governor and lieutenant governor aren't as attuned to when you hear about them talk about criminal justice, you know, it's the literal definition of criminal justice, kind of instilling law and order and maintaining law and order. So Phelan does have some priorities that I think are slightly more nuanced or are kind of unique to his agenda than the governor or lieutenant governor do."
Goudeau: Last session was one of, if not the most, conservative sessions in recent memory. And with the strong Republican majority this session, do you expect more of those hot button or social issues to get passed through the Legislature?
Svitek: "I do. The question is just how far more to the right can they push after the last session when we saw these, you know, really conservative bills related to abortion and guns. For example, we now have a virtual ban on abortion in Texas. We have permitless carry. So the question is just what is left for them to do on some of these social issues?
I thought it was, you know, pretty striking at the inauguration to hear State Sen. Brandon Creighton say that, you know, this session we're going to have, you know, one of the most conservative sessions in Texas history. You know, seeming to suggest it may be more conservative than the last one. So, you know, I think there's definitely going to be a big push when it comes to social issues to crack down on politically objectionable things being taught in the classroom. You know, you're going to see this fight against what the Republicans call indoctrination in the classroom. I think that's one kind of new front we're going to see on social issues that, you know, maybe wasn't as front and center in 2021. So that's one area where I can see them, you know, continuing to push farther to the right.
But as I just said, on some of these issues, like abortion and guns, the question is just, you know, what is there left to do?"
Bill Of The Week
In this week's Bill of the Week, Ashley highlights House Bill 24 by State REp. Victoria Neave Criado (D-Dallas), which would make all maternity clothes tax-free.