Texas Democrats petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to defund the entire legislature

Texas governor greg abbott
Texas Gov Greg Abbott removals his mask before speaking at a news conference about migrant children detentions.

  • Texas Democrats petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to defund the legislature.
  • Abbott line-item vetoed all legislative funding in the state’s budget after Democrats broke quorum to prevent legislation from passing.
  • The lawsuit claims that Abbott’s line-item vetoes were unconstitutional and therefore should not have any effect.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Texas Democrats filed a lawsuit in the state supreme court on Friday asking the courts to overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s veto of the entire legislative budget.

Democrats in the legislature staged a walkout to prevent restrictive voting laws from passing in May, leading Abbott to line-item veto Article X of the congressional budget and eliminate funding for approximately 2,109 full-time positions.

Texas’ legislature only meets in odd-numbered years, therefore Abbott effectively erased two years of funding in his line-item veto. He also vetoed the legislature’s ability to reapportion leftover funding from other apportionments, essentially disallowing legislators from finding a workaround.

The suit was filed by Chris Turner, the chair of Texas’ House Democratic Caucus, alongside more than 60 members Democratic members of the House who claim that Abbot’s veto was unconstitutional for several reasons:

  1. If a veto is unconstitutional, it has no effect
  2. Abbott’s veto is unconstitutional because it violates the “Legislative Salary Clause” of the state constitution
  3. Abbott’s veto is unconstitutional because it doesn’t let legislators determine how to allocate rollover funds
  4. Abbott’s veto is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers clause of Texas’ Constitution

Democrats are the only legislators listed on the petition, but Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan told the Texas Tribune that he’s worried about Abbott’s decision to yank funding from the legislature.

“I understand the frustration the governor has in not passing those emergency items – they were priorities of the governor, they were priorities of mine, priorities of many members of the Legislature,” Phelan said. “My only concern is how it impacts staff, especially those who live here in Austin, which is not an inexpensive place to live and raise your family and children.”

As Phelan mentioned, vetoing legislative funding defunds more than congressional pay: It also means no more paychecks for civil servants, political staffers, “the workers who handle payroll, those who move furniture between offices,” and “who serve as parking attendants.”

Abbott has already called for a special legislative to begin on July 8 to begin working on the election legislation that failed to pass in the previous legislative session. Legislators could theoretically pass a supplemental budget to fund staffers and lawmakers, but it would ultimately still need to be signed by Abbott.

Democrats still have the ability to not show up for the special session and break quorum once again, but there would be ample time for Texas Rangers to track down the missing legislators, unlike what happened in May.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a new state budget that defunds the entire state legislature

Texas Governor Greg Abbot points at the camera with a stern expression
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed Article X of the state budget, effectively defunding the entire legislature.

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defunded the state legislature while signing the state budget on Friday.
  • Abbott made the decision after Democrats staged a walkout in May to prevent restrictive voting legislation from passing.
  • Texas legislator pay is written into the state constitution, so legislative staffers will be most affected.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed Article X of the state budget on Friday, effectively defunding the entire state legislature after Democrats staged a walkout to prevent restrictive voting laws from passing in May.

“Texans don’t run from a legislative fight, and they don’t walk away from unfinished business,” Abbott said in a statement. “Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session. I therefore object to and disapprove of these appropriations.”

State Republicans were close to passing Senate Bill 7 in May which would have cracked down on initiatives that local election officials undertook in 2020 to expand voting options during the COVID-19 pandemic including:

  • Making it a felony offense for election officials to send unsolicited absentee-ballot applications to voters, even those who are eligible to vote absentee in Texas. Harris County officials tried to send absentee applications to the county’s 2.4 million registered voters in 2020 but were blocked in court.
  • Banning election officials from offering drive-thru voting, which Harris County did in 2020. The county successfully defended itself against last-minute legal challenges to its drive-thru voting system.
  • Limiting counties to a maximum of eight hours of voting, between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m., on Sundays during early voting.

But while Abbott’s aim is to punish Democratic legislators, the people most affected will likely be legislative staffers. Abbott may have vetoed the piece of the budget with the legislature’s overall funding, but Sec. 24 of the Texas Constitution states that “Members of the Legislature shall receive from the Public Treasury a salary of Six Hundred Dollars per Month.”

The state constitution also dictates that the legislators must receive a per diem pay for every day they serve when called for a special session, so they would still likely get paid regardless of the state budget.

Democratic State Rep. Sheryl Cole said on Twitter that the legislators “will be alright,” but stressed that staffers are going to face the brunt of Abbott’s veto.

Texas House Democratic Chair Rep. Chris Turner said in a statement that “the tyrannical veto of the legislative branch is the latest indication that Governor Greg Abbott is simply out of control.”

“Our caucus is exploring every option, including immediate legal options, to fight back against Greg Abbott’s abuse of power.”

Grace Panetta contributed reporting.

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The Texas governor said he plans to strip the Legislature’s pay after Democrats staged a walkout to prevent restrictive voting laws from passing

Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks in Dallas in 2018.

  • Texas Dems walked out of the chamber Sunday, preventing a restrictive elections bill from passing.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday he would defund the legislative branch after the walkout.
  • Abbott is expected to call a special session to address redistricting and the voting legislation.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared in a tweet on Monday that he would suspend the pay of the Texas Legislature after state Democrats staged a walkout to prevent Republicans from passing restrictive voting legislation.

The Texas Constitution grants the governor the power to veto line items in bills and state budgets, giving Abbott the authority to unilaterally remove the Legislature’s funding in the recently passed budget.

Abbott’s potential veto comes after state Democrats collectively walked out of the chamber to ensure there wouldn’t be the quorum of lawmakers necessary to vote on the legislation, a move that killed chances of the bill being passed before a midnight deadline.

Texas Senate Bill 7 would have cracked down on initiatives that local election officials – particularly Democratic officials in Harris County – undertook in 2020 to expand voting options during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • Making it a felony offense for election officials to send unsolicited absentee-ballot applications to voters, even those who are eligible to vote absentee in Texas. Harris County officials tried to send absentee applications to the county’s 2.4 million registered voters in 2020 but were blocked in court.
  • Banning election officials from offering drive-thru voting, which Harris County did in 2020. The county successfully defended itself against last-minute legal challenges to its drive-thru voting system.
  • Limiting counties to a maximum of eight hours of voting, between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m., on Sundays during early voting.

The Texas Legislature meets every two years for 140 days, meaning Republicans will not be able to bring the elections bill up for a vote during the normal legislative session until 2023. Under the Texas Constitution, however, the governor has the power to call a special session of up to 30 days solely to discuss and work on items brought by the governor.

Abbott was already expected to hold a special session to tackle redistricting, and it’s now likely that the voting legislation will also be debated during that time as well. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is also pushing for Abbott to include anti-transgender youth in sports legislation and other bills in the special session that failed to pass before the 87th legislative session ended in the state.

Texas legislators make $7,200 per year when not in session and $38,140 when in session, leading most state lawmakers to pursue other careers when the Legislature is not in session. If the governor calls for a special session, each legislator will receive a per diem payment of $221 for every day the special session is open, or up to $6,630 for the full special session.

Abbott’s veto would also likely affect legislative staffers, who are paid via the legislative branch.

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