The State of the State speech Gov. Greg Abbott delivered Thursday night held few surprises as he announced his plan to focus on property tax cuts, “education freedom” (which most take to mean school vouchers), school safety, the fentanyl crisis, border security and terminating “revolving door” bail and all of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions indefinitely.
In regards to border security, he proposed a $4.6 billion expenditure to continue his efforts in that regard. Speaking to a crowd of supporters at the Noveon Magnetics manufacturing headquarters in San Marcos, Abbott was rewarded with applause at each major point he made.
Most of Abbott’s priorities closely align with those of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, announced earlier this week. However, Abbott differed slightly in his emphasis on the fentanyl crisis and what he said is the need for bail reform.
“One of the most dangerous places and one you would least expect is in a courtroom with an activist judge, using low bail to let dangerous criminals back out onto the streets,” Abbott said.
Abbott specifically called out Harris County’s bail practices and alleged that the county’s bail policies were the reason criminals who have multiple felony bonds are out on the streets of Houston, killing people instead of locked up behind bars.
Earlier in the year, Abbott called for half of the state’s $27 billion surplus to go toward property tax relief effort.
Patrick is in agreement on the need for property tax reform, however the Lt. Governor has supported a smaller portion of the budget surplus to go to this relief.
“I think the main concern that the Lt. Governor has is that anything they fund now, they don’t want to create budgetary holes for in the future,” said Mark P. Jones, Rice University political science professor. “If they can’t fund in perpetuity or at least fund most of it in perpetuity.”
Additionally, Jones said that both lawmakers have the state spending cap to consider, “I think they are on the same page, it’s just about getting there and figuring out how you make those tax cuts permanent as opposed to temporary,” Jones said.
Abbott devoted plenty of time out of his 40-minute speech to school choice. He insisted that state-funded education savings accounts are of utmost importance for the future of Texas education systems.
“Without the freedom, some parents are hindered at being able to help their child succeed. That must change this year and the way to do that is through education savings accounts,” Abbott said.
He contended that these saving accounts can help special needs students and said he wants to see the school choice program expanded for every child. There has been considerable criticism of this position particularly among those who see it as a further drain on an already financially needy public school system. Abbott continues to insist that all public schools will remain fully funded.
Abbott called for new safety standards and for the new chief of school safety, John P. Scott, to mandate compliance with those standards. Additionally, Abbott said he wants to provide more mental health care professionals in schools. To date, he has resisted any appeals to change any of the state’s regulations regarding who can own a gun or what kind.
The final education-related topic Abbott touched on was the issue of parents’ monitoring children’s’ curriculum as he yelled to the crowd one of his favorite catch-phrases on the issue: “Schools are here to educate, not to indoctrinate.”
He referred to a parents’ bill of rights as a measure to protect parents’ access to what is taught in their children’s’ classrooms and what students are exposed to in school libraries.
Other socially-charged issues which Democratic lawmakers stated as their legislative priority issues in a rebuttal following Abbott’s address – such as expanding Medicaid, offering abortion care, protecting LGBTQ rights and Abbott’s recent call to end Diversity, Inclusion and Equity initiatives – the governor hardly touched on.
“Some of these social items are a point of contention for Republicans,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project. “It’s important to focus on what the governor will choose in terms of his mainstream campaign promises – which target some people from both sides – and what items he will tackle for the more conservative Republican primary voters that have gotten attention over the last election cycle.”
Henson expected Abbott to take the route he did concerning school safety in relation to adding mental health resources, “The school safety issues will be more about the range of mental health services, not anything to do with limiting the access to guns,” Henson said.
The director also did not expect Abbott to speak on abortion care. Texas is already home to some of the most restrictive laws for reproductive health care.
“There are people in the Republican party who are still asking for more restrictions, and I think that’s interesting, and it opens questions as to how responsive Abbott will be to those people,” Henson said.
Abbott also stayed silent on his stance towards potential reproductive health care legislation during the duration of the address – alongside his recent calls of support for anti-transgender legislation barring minors from gender reassignment care and transgender collegiate athletes from playing on the team that matches their avowed gender.