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When Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the Texas Legislature, he said he was taking drastic retaliation after more than 30 Democrats walked out of the regular session, killing a draft GOP priority voting law.
But the Legislative Assembly funding veto goes well beyond the $ 600 monthly allowance for the 30-plus House Democrats in Abbott’s sights. It goes beyond the 150 members of the House and the 31 members of the Senate. In fact, their wages are constitutionally protected.
But the veto threatens the livelihoods of 2,165 legislative staff and people working in legislative agencies, with a median salary of $ 52,000 per year, according to state comptroller data.
This includes staff like Ted Raab, the legislative director of Representative Mary GonzÃ¡lez, D-Clint, who is worried about how he would financially support himself and his three daughters if he lost his income.
âIf the funding isn’t there, I won’t be there,â Raab said.
Abbott’s veto affects the next two-year budget cycle starting September 1, meaning funding for staff members working during the next special session starting next week will not be affected. Already, Democrats and members of the legislative staff have asked the Texas Supreme Court to override the veto, calling the move a step beyond executive authority.
Abbott, who sets the agenda for what can be addressed in the Special Legislative Session, said he would allow the Legislature the option of restoring funding in the next special session.
But that’s hardly a guarantee. Raab said he was still worried that he would have to dip into his retirement fund in a few months to pay for health insurance and living expenses for his family. Health coverage is especially vital for her eldest daughter, an undergraduate student with pulmonary arterial hypertension who requires daily medication and regular medical treatment.
Donovon J. Rodriguez, chief of staff to Rep. Ray Lopez, D-San Antonio and one of the petitioners, said the veto hurt him, in addition to his wife and one-year-old daughter Evelyn .
âWe are a one-income family,â Rodriguez said. “It would absolutely affect us tremendously.”
It is also embarrassing for the employees that they have become pawns in a political battle that does not involve them. âIt’s pretty funny that now – for political reasons – our jobs are in jeopardy,â Rodriguez said. “It’s the kind of thing no one would predict: that your governor would veto some branch of government.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment. But his spokesperson Renae Eze previously acknowledged that constitutionally lawmakers would still receive their salaries, but his office did not comment on the threat of loss of income for the thousands of officials affected.
The legislative branch’s budget, known as Article X, includes funding for House and Senate lawmakers, their employees, and those who work in non-partisan legislative bodies. In total, more than $ 410 million has been allocated in the 2022-2023 fiscal budget.
Democrats aren’t the only members affected by Abbott’s veto. Shortly after Abbott announced he would take the action, House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, said it would hurt the wrong people.
âMy concern is how this affects the staff, especially those who live here in Austin, which is not a cheap place to live and raise family and children,â Phelan said at the time. “And the agencies that this has an impact … I’m just concerned about the impact it has on them because they weren’t the ones who decided that we were going to break the quorum, it was not their decision, n ‘ is this not?”
Abbott responded to Phelan’s concerns in a separate interview, saying the speaker “has a role to play here” and “needs to step up and get the job done.”
âHe’s not an outside spectator,â Abbott said at the time. âHe’s a participant.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who chairs the Senate, said putting staff jobs on the line was an effective way to ensure Democratic lawmakers show up for the special session, after members staged a walkout in the final days of the session to block an overhaul of electoral rules they called an attempt to suppress voters.
“If the Democrats don’t come back, they’ll have to fire everyone,” Patrick told Dallas radio host Mark Davis. “It will force them to come back, and while they are back, we will pass these other bills.”
Brooke Bennett Galindo, chief of staff to Representative Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, said she hopes funding will be restored before the end of the fiscal year.
âWe’re still talking a little bit about assumptions, but we’re optimistic about whether or not to spend this funding,â Bennett Galindo said.
But critics have said it is cruel and confusing to prey on those who have worked so hard during the legislative session and who are about to embark on at least two special sessions. Another special session to address redistribution will be called this fall.
âThis funding for the legislature doesn’t just affect the people who came out, who broke the quorum,â said Odus Evbagharu, chief of staff to Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston. âRepublicans must suffer as well. It has become a partisan issue. You punish everyone.
Evbagharu, who is also helping his sister financially in her sophomore year of college, said the veto affects the families of these officials.
“There are a lot of external factors that play in not getting a salary,” said Evbagharu. “On top of that, the necessities of paying the bills and supporting your family – the uncertainty just isn’t fair and needs to be addressed.”
The veto also affects six legislative agencies funded under Article X of the state budget, which has allocated more than $ 162 million for two years. A significant portion of this funding has been allocated to the Legislative Council – approximately $ 83 million. Council staff assist legislators in drafting and analyzing bills.
Other Article X-funded agencies also participate in the session, including the Legislative Reference Library, which conducts research for the legislature; the State Auditor’s Office, which reviews state finances; and the Sunset Advisory Commission, which conducts reviews of the effectiveness of state agencies.
âIt’s an everyday collaboration – there isn’t a day that we don’t collaborate with these departments because it’s a lot of departments driving this thing forward,â Evbagharu said. âWithout them, we cannot do our jobs efficiently.
Several legislative agencies will play a crucial role in the legislative redistribution session scheduled for the fall.
They are crucial for policymaking during redistribution sessions, including the Legislative Budget Council and the Legislative Council. The LBB is responsible for developing policy and budget recommendations and providing fiscal notes for the bills, while the Legislative Council will also be responsible for drawing the redistribution maps.
Evbagharu said that if funding is not restored, it calls into question whether or not staff and agency staff are planning to show up to the special fall session.
“I think the real question is, and I don’t have the right or wrong answer to that, are you introducing yourself?” Said Evbagharu. âIf they’re not going to pay the staff, what’s the motivation to be there? “