TCTA | Legislative staff funding complicates political standoff
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Legislative staff funding complicates political standoff

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In June, anticipating that Democratic legislators might continue to fight his priority issues during a special session, Gov. Abbott line-item-vetoed the section of the state budget that funds the legislative branch. The idea was to force legislators to meet to restore the funding before the new fiscal year begins. Without action by the legislature, the veto will go into effect on Sep. 1. 2021.

Pay for legislators themselves is protected by the Texas Constitution, so members of the House and Senate will not lose their salaries under the veto. More than 2,100 legislative aides and staff of related entities such as the Legislative Council and the Legislative Budget Board will not be paid by the state after Sep. 1. (The LBB addresses fiscal matters including determining the financial impact of proposed bills; Legislative Council drafts bills and provides other legal assistance including – notably – drawing redistricting maps.) The state would also not pay for health insurance until the funding is restored, potentially jeopardizing the health of those who may not be able to afford medical care without insurance.

Chairman Will Metcalf, who heads the House Administration Committee, warned members and staff earlier this week about the consequences of the governor’s veto, which would affect salaries, health insurance and retirement contributions; district office expenses; equipment and service contracts; and more.

House Democrats have asked the Texas Supreme Court to overturn the veto, asserting that it violates separation-of-powers provisions in the Texas Constitution. The Court has not yet made a ruling.

The state comptroller’s office has warned that although the funding cutoff does not begin until Sep. 1, any remedy must be approved by mid- to late-August so that the state’s budget systems can be properly programmed. With the current special session ending no later than Aug. 6, Abbott would have to call a second special session, and enough Democrats would have to return to constitute a quorum, in order for the Legislature to restore funding in time to avoid major disruptions.