GOP senator says Gov. Greg Abbott should lose line-item veto after cutting Legislature’s funding, jeopardizing staffers’ jobs

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, speaks to his colleague on the Senate Floor on April 12, 2021.

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A Republican state senator said Tuesday that Gov. Greg Abbott no longer deserves line-item veto authority after using his executive power to jeopardize the jobs of thousands of state workers.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed a bill in the special legislative session aimed at removing the governor’s line-item veto power. Seliger is the only author listed on the bill, which is a constitutional amendment, meaning it would need two-thirds approval from each chamber and then voters would get to decide.

But the bill is largely symbolic, as the Legislature is currently at a standstill, unable to move any legislation because House Democrats broke quorum two weeks ago when they fled to Washington, D.C., to block GOP voting bills.

“Vetoing this funding doesn’t punish legislators who left. It punishes regular hard-working folks who have nothing to do with voting for or against bills,” Seliger tweeted. “We now have less than 4 weeks before the veto eliminates pay for Capitol post office staff, researchers, caseworkers in district offices, those responsible for answering open record requests, etc...”

“They have not left their posts but are worried about health insurance, rent, and paying for their children’s school supplies,” he added.

Seliger, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is one of few Republicans to openly blame Abbott for putting staff jobs at risk. In recent weeks, as tensions have bubbled over the quorum break, some Republicans have pointed the finger at Democrats for refusing to return to the Capitol and preventing the Legislature from being able to restore the money for staffers.

The legislative branch budget, spelled out in Article X of the state’s biennial fiscal budget, includes funding for House and Senate lawmakers, their staffers and those working in nonpartisan legislative agencies.

In total, more than $410 million was allocated in the 2022-23 fiscal budget. The veto affects the jobs of 2,165 legislative staffers and individuals working at legislative agencies, according to data from the state comptroller. Lawmakers’ salaries are constitutionally protected, so they do not lose their pay.

Abbott vetoed funding for the entire branch in June as retribution after House Democrats broke quorum on the last day of the regular legislative session to block passage of a GOP priority elections bill that would limit voting access across the state.

However, Abbott, who decides what can be considered in the special legislative sessions, added restoring the funds to the agenda for the current session — likely intended to be an incentive to keep Democrats from leaving again. Bills in the House and the Senate intended to restore the funding have not passed, since Democrats did in fact leave a second time and are still out of the state. Democrats previously asked the Texas Supreme Court to block Abbott’s veto on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this week, Texas House Administration Chair Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, spelled out what would happen if Article X funding is not restored. The House would not have the authority or funding to pay for employee salaries and the services, contracts and leases currently in place beginning Sept. 1.

“The implications to the operation of the House are significant,” he wrote.

He added that many services around the Capitol would be disrupted, including cleaning, cable, travel, telephones and travel reimbursements. Health insurance for staff members would also be negatively impacted.

Among those staffers whose jobs are at risk is Donovon J. Rodriguez, chief of staff to state Rep. Ray Lopez, D-San Antonio, who said Abbott is “unlawfully eliminating jobs and displacing hardworking individuals.”

“His actions have induced a constitutional crisis that is hurting me and my family,” he said.

Although funding to the legislative branch is unaffected during this legislative session, it would impact a future session on redistricting that is scheduled for later this year.

Several legislative agencies — with six in total — play crucial roles in this session, notably the Legislative Budget Board and Legislative Council. The LBB is responsible for developing policy and budget recommendations and providing fiscal notes for bills. The Legislative Council will be charged with drawing the maps for redistricting.

In response to Seliger’s tweet, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said state employees have nothing to do with Abbott’s “grievance.”

“Despite our political differences, we cannot allow this dangerous precedent to be set,” Howard said on social media.

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