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When Governor Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the Texan legislature, he said he was taking drastic measures in retaliation after more than 30 Democrats walked out of the regular session and killed a GOP priority voting bill.
But the legislature’s veto of funding extends well beyond the $ 600 monthly stipend for the 30-plus House Democrats in Abbott’s crosshairs. It goes beyond the 150 members of the House of Representatives and the 31 members of the Senate. In fact, their salaries are constitutionally protected.
But the veto threatens the existence of 2,165 legislative staff and those who work in legislative agencies, with an average salary of $ 52,000 a year, according to data from the state auditor.
This includes employees like Ted Raab, the legislative director of Rep. Mary GonzÃ¡lez, D-Clint, who is concerned about how he could financially support himself and his three daughters if he loses his income.
“If the funding isn’t there, I won’t be there,” said Raab.
Abbott’s veto will affect the next two-year fiscal cycle starting September 1, which means it will not affect funding for employees going through the next special session starting next week. Democrats and Legislature have already petitioned the Texas Supreme Court to overturn the veto, calling the move an overstepping of an executive authority.
Abbott, who sets the agenda for what can be discussed during the special session of the legislature, said he would give the legislature the opportunity to restore funding at the upcoming special session.
But that’s hardly a guarantee. Raab said he was still concerned that in a few months’ time he might have to dig into his retirement fund to pay for his family’s health insurance and living expenses. Health insurance is especially important for his eldest daughter – a young college student with pulmonary arterial hypertension who needs daily medication and regular medical treatment.
Donovon J. Rodriguez, chief of staff of Rep. Ray Lopez, D-San Antonio and one of the petitioners, said the veto violated himself and his wife and one-year-old daughter Evelyn.
“We’re a family with an income,” said Rodriguez. “That would hit us very hard.”
It also bothers employees that they have become pawns in a political struggle in which they are not involved. “It’s funny that now – for political reasons – our jobs are at risk,” said Rodriguez. “It’s something that nobody would predict: that your governor would veto a branch of government.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment. However, his spokeswoman Renae Eze had previously admitted that the legislature would constitutionally continue to receive her salary, but his office has not commented on the looming loss of income for the thousands of government employees affected.
The legislature’s budget, known as Article X, includes funding for House and Senate representatives, their staff, and those serving in bipartisan legislative bodies. In total, more than $ 410 million was allocated in the 2022-23 budget.
Democrats are not the only members affected by Abbott’s veto. Shortly after Abbott announced he would take the action, House spokesman Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, said it would hurt the wrong people.
“My concern is how this will affect the employees, especially those who live here in Austin, which is not a cheap place to live and raise families and children,” Phelan said at the time. “And the agencies that it affects … I’m just worried about how it affects them because they weren’t the ones who decided we were going to break the quorum, it wasn’t their choice, was it?”
Abbott responded to Phelan’s concerns in a separate interview, saying the spokesman “has a role to play” and “needs to step up and get the job done”.
âHe’s not an outside spectator,â Abbott said at the time. “He’s a participant.”
In the meantime, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs the Senate, said hiring staff is an effective way to ensure that Democratic lawmakers show up at the special session after members held a strike in the final days of the session blocking a revision of electoral rules that block described it as attempted voter suppression.
“If the Democrats don’t come back, they’ll all have to fire,” Patrick told radio host Mark Davis in Dallas. “That will force them to come back and while they are back we will get those other bills off.”
Brooke Bennett Galindo, chief of staff for Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, said she hoped funding would be restored before the end of the fiscal year.
“We’re still talking a little hypothetically, but we’re optimistic that we’ll get an opportunity to end this funding,” said Bennett Galindo.
However, critics said it was cruel and confusing to persecute those who have worked so hard through the legislature and who are about to begin at least two special sessions. Another special session on redistribution will be convened this fall.
“This defuse of the legislature does not only affect the people who broke the quorum,” said Odus Evbagharu, chief of staff of Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston. âThe Republicans have to suffer as well. It has become a partisan issue. You punish everyone. “
Evbagharu, who is also sponsoring his sister in her sophomore year, said the veto affects the families of these state employees.
“There are many external factors that contribute to not getting a paycheck,” said Evbagharu. “On top of that, the need to pay bills and take care of your family – the uncertainty is just not right and needs to be corrected.”
The veto also affects six legislative bodies funded under Article X of the state budget, which has allocated more than $ 162 million for two years. A significant portion of that funding has been allocated to the Legislative Council – about $ 83 million. The council’s staff support the legislature in drafting and analyzing legislative proposals.
Other Article X-funded agencies also attend the session, including the Legislative Reference Library, which does research for the legislature; the State Auditor’s Office, which reviews the state’s finances; and the Sunset Advisory Commission, which conducts the efficiency reviews of state agencies.
“It’s an everyday collaboration – there isn’t a day that we don’t work with these departments because there are many departments that make this thing work,” said Evbagharu. “Without them, we cannot do our work effectively.”
Several legislatures will play a key role in the legislative redistribution session scheduled for autumn.
They are vital to policy making during the redistribution meetings, especially the Budget Legislative Committee and the Council on Legislation. The LBB is responsible for the development of policy and budget recommendations and the creation of fiscal notes for draft laws, while the Legislative Council is also charged with creating the maps for redistribution.
Evbagharu said that if funding is not restored, it is questionable whether or not staff and agency staff will attend the special meeting in the fall.
“I think the real question is, and I don’t have a right or wrong answer to it, do you show up?” Said Evbagharu. “If they don’t pay staff, what is the incentive to be there?”