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Texas Governor Threatens to Withhold Lawmaker Salaries

In what seems like retaliation after Democratic lawmakers walked off the floor to boycott a contentious elections bill, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he would veto the part of the budget that funds legislators’ paychecks.

(TNS) — Moments before the final gavel fell in the House to close out this year's legislative session, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he would veto funding in the state budget for lawmaker salaries, an exclamation point to a dramatic final weekend.

The announcement came hours after House Democrats vacated the Capitol to prevent a vote on a divisive bill to rewrite the state's election laws. The unusual move came amid mounting tensions between House and Senate leaders over the passage of several Republican priority bills.

"I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature," Abbott wrote in a tweet. "Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities. Stay tuned."

Abbott has vowed to bring lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session to pass the elections bill and legislation intended to change the state's bail system, which also died as the clock struck midnight Sunday, the deadline for passing legislation..

The Legislature already is scheduled to convene for a special session later this year to redraw the state's political boundaries and to allocate roughly $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding. Abbott has not said whether he will add these new priorities to the agenda for this session, or bring lawmakers back earlier.

While Abbott's veto message appears to be revenge for Democrats walking off the floor on Sunday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick placed the blame on House Speaker Dade Phelan, R- Beaumont, for allowing the bills to die. Patrick presides over the Senate while Phelan leads the House.

"For five months, nothing happened in that other chamber and here is where we ended," he said late Sunday. "We're not going to let that happen again, whether we're here 30 days or multiple sessions, we're not going to let that happen again. We're not going to be played by their bad management of their calendar."

Abbott has until June 20 to sign or veto legislation approved by lawmakers during the regular legislative session. He does not have to sign bills in order for them to become law, but affixing his signature to a bill is a show of support for the legislation.

Texas also gives the governor the authority to line-item veto any bills that allocate state dollars, namely the massive two-year budget approved by lawmakers during each session.

This year's $248.6 billion budget is divided into 10 articles for different purposes, like Education, Health and Human Services and the Judiciary. Abbott has threatened to veto Article X, which includes $410.2 million to fund the legislative branch over the next two years.

"This would eliminate the branch of government that represents the people and basically create a monarchy," said Rep. Donna Howard, D- Austin, in a tweet.

The budget covers the next two fiscal years, starting on Sept. 1 and the funding in jeopardy includes salaries for state lawmakers. State legislators make $600 a month, or $7,200 annually.

In addition to salaries for lawmakers and legislative employees, the money pays for numerous entities that support lawmakers in their work at the Capitol: the Legislative Budget Board, Legislative Council, the Commission on Uniform State Laws, the Sunset Advisory Commission, the State Auditor's Office and the Legislative Reference Library.

"Punishing working class office staff, maintenance, and other support services because he didn't get every single one of his demands is very on-brand for Texas Republicans," said Rep. Gene Wu, D- Houston, in a tweet.

He added: "If we have 3 branches of government in Texas (who are supposed to check each other), and you dissolve one of those branches, then you are only one step away from a Monarchy. But, maybe that was the plan all along."

(c)2021 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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