More than 2,000 employees working for Texas’ legislative branch could find themselves with no source of income on Sept. 1, the start of the 2022 fiscal year in Texas.
The self-inflicted budget crisis began in June when Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed $410 million in funding for the branch that was appropriated for the 2022-23 biennium.
Now, staffers for lawmakers and several other state agencies, including the Legislative Budget Board and State Auditor’s Office, have their income threatened unless lawmakers or the governor act before the end of August.
House Administration Committee Vice-Chair Rep. Sheryl Cole said the amount of time state employees can continue to work without income after Sept. 1 varies by staffers, but in general, not long in high-cost Austin.
Cole said experienced staffers leaving the Capitol to work in the private sector would be a major loss of institutional knowledge. It would also prevent the entire branch from operating smoothly.
“We couldn’t function, how are we going to do restricting without any staff?” Cole said. “It’s just a preposterous assumption.”
One unforeseen consequence of defunding the legislative branch, Cole said, would be the fact that staffers would be unable to help constituents, whom they often help connect with federal, state, or local aid and programs.
“What’s going to happen when people’s power goes out, and we can’t tell them where to go or what to do?” Cole said. “They close our offices — we’ll just have to put up a sign that says closed by Greg Abbott.”
To correct this, lawmakers would have to pass a budget bill with haste, or the governor could fix it all on his own without requiring another session by using his budget authority, which Abbott most recently flexed by funding the border wall without input from lawmakers.
Democrats have filed a lawsuit against the governor, arguing that the defunding of the legislature violates the constitution and guarantee of co-equal branches of government.
“The Texas Supreme Court has to be worried about if the executive branch, the governor, has the power to stop work in the legislature, doesn’t he have the same power to overrule things that the Supreme Court wants to do?” Cole said.