Gov. Greg Abbott threatens string of vetoes if lawmakers can’t agree on property tax cuts

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about the recent regular session of the Legislature at the Texas Public Policy Foundation offices in Austin on June 2, 2023. (Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune, Evan L'Roy/The Texas Tribune)

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Recommended Videos

Gov. Greg Abbott is raising the prospect of vetoing large numbers of bills passed by the Legislature as he demands a House-Senate compromise on property tax relief, further raising public tensions with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Sunday is the deadline for Abbott to sign or veto bills from the regular session, which ended late last month without a resolution on property taxes. Lawmakers are about halfway through a 30-day special session in which they remain gridlocked on the issue.

Abbott has recently held back on signing legislation — Senate bills in particular — and on Tuesday, he vetoed Senate Bill 2035, saying lawmakers could revisit it after they pass property tax relief. He continued Wednesday evening, vetoing two more bills, one from each chamber, saying again that lawmakers could reconsider them after they tackle property taxes.

“As we get closer and closer to this Sunday, all of these bills that have yet to be signed face the possibility — if not the probability — that they’re going to be vetoed,” Abbott told reporters Wednesday afternoon during a bill-signing ceremony at the Capitol. He later doubled down, saying he “can’t ensure that any bill that has not yet been signed is going to be signed.”

Patrick, the presiding officer of the Senate, fired back in a tweet.

“In a ploy to apparently get his way, Governor Abbott suggests he is threatening to destroy the work of the entire 88th Legislative Session — hundreds of thousands of hours by lawmakers doing the work the people sent us to do,” Patrick said. “The Governor’s suggested threat today to veto a large number of Senate bills is an affront to the legislative process and the people of Texas.”

Abbott’s comments earlier Wednesday appeared to significantly raise the stakes as he tries to coax a property tax compromise out of the two chambers. Abbott initially backed the House’s approach to the issue in the special session, but he has since cooled off, instead calling for the two chambers to strike an agreement that can reach his desk.

The special session has been dragging on amid the traditional bill-signing period that follows every regular session. Abbott can sign or veto bills by Sunday — or do nothing and let them become law anyway.

At the time of Abbott's news conference Wednesday, he had signed only 10 Senate bills, compared with 450 House bills, according to legislative records. There were 240 Senate bills awaiting action by the governor, compared with 108 House bills. One of those House bills is the budget, which Abbott has said he will sign.

The unsigned bills as of Wednesday afternoon included a number of Patrick's priority bills, like Senate Bill 25, which would provide financial assistance for nursing students.

Abbott’s Tuesday veto of SB 2035, which deals with bond election restrictions, was notable because its author was Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, the Senate’s top expert on property taxes. The two bills Abbott vetoed Wednesday also involved Bettencourt — he authored one and sponsored the other.

“Senate Bill 2035 has too many loopholes,” Abbott said in his veto proclamation for that bill. “This bill can be reconsidered at a future special session only after property tax relief is passed.”

Bettencourt said in an interview that he was not aware of any loopholes in the bill. He added he was working to get in touch with Abbott’s for more information.

“It's quite a surprise because it’s as good government as a good-government bill gets,” Bettencourt said.

The two bills Abbott vetoed Wednesday were Senate Bill 467 and House Bill 4158. Abbott was particularly biting in his veto statement on the latter, saying it “appears to require more paperwork about property taxes, but does nothing to cut property taxes.”

The two chambers have been at odds over the best way to deliver property tax relief since the beginning of the special session. Abbott called for lawmakers to exclusively focus on a method known as compression, or sending state funds to school districts to help lower their property tax rates. The House quickly obliged Abbott and left town, but the Senate has remained in session while insisting on also increasing the homestead exemption, or the chunk of a home’s appraised value that is exempt from property taxes.

The property-tax standoff has sparked a rare public spat between Abbott and Patrick, who over the years have tended to work out their differences in private.

The showdown also finds Abbott looking to leverage the few formal powers a governor has to influence the legislative process. He has wielded his veto power aggressively before, nixing funding for the Legislature in 2021 as punishment for a Democratic walkout over GOP-backed voting restrictions.

Go behind the headlines with newly announced speakers at the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, in downtown Austin from Sept. 21-23. Join them to get their take on what’s next for Texas and the nation.

Recommended Videos