On Monday, a bipartisan group of three former state leaders, two Republicans and one Democrat, voiced their opposition against Gov. Greg Abbott’s effort to defund the legislature. Former House Speaker Joe Straus, former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, and former House Speaker Pete Laney filed an amicus curiae brief on Monday arguing that Abbott’s veto of Article X is “executive overreach.”
Article X is the section of the state budget that funds the Texas Legislature, its staff and legislative agencies. Abbott vetoed Article X as retaliation for Democrats walking out to block SB 7, a Republican bill that would make it harder to vote and easier to overturn elections. The walk out also killed a controversial bail reform bill that Abbott had labelled a priority. Abbott’s veto of Article X is both unprecedented and constitutionally questionable.
“The Governor’s veto of Article X of SB1 is an attempt to intimidate members of the Legislature and circumvent democracy by vetoing the appropriations that fund operations of a separate branch of government,” stated the brief. “This action should be rebuked by people of all political persuasions.”
The brief also noted that the veto would defund non-partisan legislative agencies that are “critical to research, fiscal analyses and the preparation of potential new legislation.”
The three former legislative leaders weren’t the only bipartisan group to voice opposition to Abbott’s veto. Another brief opposing the move was signed by all 13 Democrats in the Texas Senate, a group of law professors, and even a few current and former Republican officials.
Blocking Article X could lead to over 2,000 legislative staffers and employees of legislative agencies going without pay for two years. However, the legislators themselves would still get paid as their salaries are protected by the Texas Constitution, a fact that even Abbott has acknowledged.
Texas House Democrats have sued Abbott over his move to defund the legislature, arguing that it violates separation-of-powers provisions in the Texas Constitution. They were joined in their lawsuit by legislative staffers, Texas AFL-CIO, and several legislative caucuses. The lawsuit is asking the Texas Supreme Court to overturn the veto. Monday was the deadline for the state to respond to the lawsuit, and the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton has defended Abbott’s actions.
Abbott has listed Article X funding as one of his priority items for the upcoming special session. Still, there is a matter of principle. The issue is not just that Abbott’s actions threaten the ability of the Texas Legislature to do business. If left unchecked, Abbott will set a precedent for future governors to veto (or threaten to veto) Article X in order to bend the lawmakers to their will. This would concentrate power in the Governor’s Mansion at the expense of the Legislature, when the two are supposed to be co-equal branches of government. It’s just the latest authoritarian move from the GOP.