With his first session officially behind him, Gov. Greg Abbott has wielded his veto pen against 42 bills, the largest batch of legislation to draw a Texas governor's disapproval since the 2007 session.
In most cases, Abbott evoked a familiar conservative orthodoxy to justify his decisions, nixing bills that he argued would grow state government too much. There were smaller themes as well, with Abbott objecting to some bills on the basis that they favored one part of the state over the rest of it. And on specific issues, such as elections and criminal justice, he largely sided with the current state of the system over proposed tweaks, expressing concern about the potential for abuse posed by more flexible or lenient rules.
Perhaps the most notable bills to fall victim to Abbott's veto was legislation by state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, that included a so-called spousal loophole. The measure, which dealt with the disclosure of personal finances of married elected officials, ultimately sank two bills by Davis more broadly geared toward ethics reform, one of Abbott's five emergency items.
Abbott's veto statement on Davis' House Bill 3736, one of the two pieces of legislation with the loophole, stood out for its pointedness, with Abbott declaring he "will not be a part of weakening our ethics laws" and saying the conversation should continue into next session. The rest of his statements were generally less emphatic, some lamenting how last-minute amendments hurt a bill's chance of winning his signature.
Beyond the ethics legislation, Senate Bill 313 was one of the more visible ones nixed by Abbott. The bill, by state GOP Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, aimed to tailor the state's K-12 standards, but critics considered it a potential back door to the Common Core national education standards dreaded by the GOP base.
Many in Abbott's own party had urged him to veto the bill, including the Texas GOP leaders who had unanimously passed a resolution urging him to reject it. On Saturday, Abbott took to Twitter to announce his veto of SB 313 before releasing his veto statement, which said the bill "potentially restricts the ability of the State Board of Education to address the needs of Texas classrooms."
Abbott's dozens of other vetoes targeted bills that, among other things, aimed to lighten penalties for prostitution (HB 1363) and give state employees the opportunity to telecommute (SB 1032). He suggested that the prostitution legislation, by Democratic state Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, was too easy on "willful repeat offenders," while the telecommuting proposal, by Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, gave too much power to employees' supervisors to alter their schedule.
On Saturday, Abbott also signed the state budget — but not before he made several line-item vetoes, slashing more than $295 million from a budget that had initially totaled $209.4 billion.
The biggest cuts included some $166 million worth of revenue bonds from the Texas Facilities Commission – $132 million of which would have gone to replace the G.J. Sutton State Office Complex in San Antonio.
“To keep Texas fiscally strong, we must limit unnecessary state debt and spending. Debt service can burden the state's budget and limit the economic freedom of future generations,” Abbott wrote. "All debt and spending to construct new facilities should be approved only after a project has been carefully scrutinized to determine that tax dollars are spent in the most cost-effective manner.”
Abbott wrapped up his work on vetoes by 2 a.m. Saturday, well ahead of the deadline at midnight Sunday to take action. His predecessor, Rick Perry, famously waited until the last day of his first veto period in 2001 to nix several dozen bills, a point in history remembered as the "Father's Day Massacre."
Abbott's 42 vetoes is the highest number since the 2007 session, when Perry issued 56 vetoes. Abbott's office confirmed Saturday that 42 was the final count, not including line-item vetoes.
Jim Malewitz contributed reporting to this story.