Governor Greg Abbott May Be Unsuccessful in Using Vetoes To Force His Priorities

Many bills failed to get Governor Greg Abbott's stamp of approval.
Many bills failed to get Governor Greg Abbott's stamp of approval. Screenshot
Governor Greg Abbott's plan to push senators to support his property tax relief and school choice proposals might have backfired on him when he vetoed many bills, most of which had garnered bipartisan support.

Although Abbott did not break the 83-bill record of most legislation vetoed in a session, he did veto 77 bills in the most “unusually explicit” way, said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University.

Jones said, unlike governors in the past, Abbott did not “invent” a policy-related reason why he was quashing these measures. Instead, he struck down at least 58 bills and said he might reconsider them after his priorities passed.

“One could say what he’s doing is trying to generate leverage such that the senators will be more supportive of his proposals,” Jones said. “But a part of me says it’s doubtful that a senator is going to change their position on something as important as property tax simply to get a municipal utility district or be able to sell charity raffle tickets.”

Abbott took issue with bills covering a wide array of topics ranging from regulating telephone solicitations (SB 315), creating a sickle cell disease registry (HB 181) and a potential real estate purchase of state land by the Palo Pinto County Livestock Association (HB 3436) .

Jones said the governor likely “went out of his way” to select legislation that was more of a priority to individual senators but probably wouldn’t make much of an effect on most Texans to ensure that the vetoes did not come back to “haunt him.”

Despite these efforts, rejected measures also addressed more significant issues, such as Senate Bill 267, which would have created a grant program to assist more law enforcement agencies with receiving accreditation — a bill filed in response to the Uvalde mass shooting.

And House Bill 3159 allowed disabled voters – primarily visually impaired or paralyzed – to vote with electronic ballots and computers.

Abbott received backlash from voter rights advocates and legislators alike. He said the reason for rejecting this legislation was the inability to ensure that this voting method would be accessed by those who were disabled only – not because of property tax or school choice.

Supporters of the measure claimed the governor’s concern was unwarranted because the bill clearly outlines that those who voted like this would be required to affirm that they had a disability.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who has publicly gone on the offense against Abbott due to the property tax debate, said the governor’s recent decision to veto this surplus of bills was “not a good look.”

Jones said instead of pulling senators to his side to approve his tax compression plan or lowering the public school district taxes to reduce all property taxes, Abbott’s actions likely unified Republican and Democrat senators alike.

“One thing that all the senators can agree with – even the same number of senators who didn’t have a veto cast against them – is that the governor went over the top,” he said. “He crossed a line and did so in an unstructured, not strategic way."

Abbott also had never threatened to veto bills before the special session after the House and Senate passed them.

Democratic senators already widely endorse Patrick’s plan, as they view the homestead exemption increase as the way to provide relief to a majority of Texans – not distribute it to benefit large companies, corporations and the wealthy like the House’s plan.

Abbott could have sent the same message by going after Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) – the author of the Senate’s property tax proposals – on bills he wrote or sponsored instead of “unnecessarily” vetoing all of the legislation he did, Jones said.

“Was it necessary to kill Sen. Carol Alvarado’s bill on specialty license plates for honorary consuls?” he said. “Does Abbott think that she is going to change how she votes on something as crucial as property tax relief to get a bill passed?”

With a second special session approaching, Jones said he expects the governor to call a “sequential special session,” which will outline getting property tax settled first.

Then Abbott will likely move on to his main priority, school choice, which he has said will be on special session agendas until it passes into law. From there, the governor could open up the special session to include some of the bills that he vetoed.

However, Jones said this would be a challenge as Abbott would have to find a way to set up the sessions to include all the topics the legislation covers.

“The governor will have to get creative to design a call that would allow most of – if not all – of the 58 vetoes he cast for property tax relief or school choice to be passed in a later summer special session," he said. 
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.