Texas Guv Faces Friendly Fire After Targeting Salaries in Voting-Rights Fight

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by Cassandra Pollock, The Texas Tribune

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said Tuesday he has concerns with Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent vow to veto a section of the state budget that funds the Legislature, citing how the move to block such pay could impact staffers and legislative agencies.

“I understand the frustration the governor has in [lawmakers] not passing those emergency items—they were priorities of the governor, they were priorities of mine, priorities of many members of the Legislature,” Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “My only concern is how it impacts staff, especially those who live here in Austin, which is not an inexpensive place to live and raise your family and children.”

Abbott’s vow came after a Democratic walkout in the House late Sunday night blocked passage of Senate Bill 7, his priority elections bill that would overhaul voting rights in Texas.

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” Abbott said in a tweet.

Phelan also said he thinks that, under the Constitution, lawmakers would still have to be paid even if Abbott carried out his veto. Lawmakers are paid $600 a month in addition to a per diem of $221 every day the Legislature is in session, both during regular and special sessions.

In an interview with the Tribune later Tuesday, Abbott insisted he still plans to veto that part of the budget and said that if Phelan is “concerned about it, he needs to do something about it.”

“He has a role to play here,” Abbott said. “He’s not some outside viewer. He’s a participant, and he needs to step up and get the job done.”

The governor has said he will summon the Legislature back to Austin for an overtime round to pass the legislation, though he has not yet specified when he plans to do so. Lawmakers are already expected to return this fall for a special session to redraw the state’s political maps.

Phelan said if Abbott carries out the veto, which he has until June 20 to do, lawmakers could be back for an earlier-than-anticipated overtime round to deal with the issue, since the budget at issue covers the fiscal year starting Sept. 1.

The speaker also said he had concerns about how the move could impact legislative agencies such as the Legislative Budget Board, which are also funded by article X of the budget.

“They weren’t the ones who decided that we were going to break quorum,” Phelan said.

Abbott is the only elected official who can decide which issues are included in a special session agenda and when one can happen. He has said that both the voting bill and priority bail legislation that also failed to advance during the regular session will be added to a special session agenda.

Asked Tuesday whether there were additional issues he’d like to see included, Phelan suggested that lawmakers could go further on some of the issues the Legislature debated about how to shore up the state’s electrical grid after a deadly winter storm in February left millions of homes and businesses without electricity for days.

While lawmakers sent Abbott legislation that will make some changes to the states power grid, such as requiring power plants to prepare key infrastructure for more extreme weather, they did not pass measures to structurally change the Texas electricity market that some experts called for in the wake of the massive storm.

“I think there’s some more discussion that needs to occur about securitization and making certain that the grid is exactly how we need it to be in not just the summer months but winter months as well,” he said.

On SB 7 [the voting bill], Phelan expressed interest in taking a more piecemeal approach during a special session, suggesting that the issue could be broken into multiple pieces of legislation instead of an omnibus bill, which he said sometimes “can become just too weighty.”

The move, he said, could help lawmakers “feel more comfortable about what’s in each piece of legislation and give everyone a better opportunity to vet the ideas.”

Phelan, who was elected to his first term as speaker by House members in January, also said Tuesday he will almost certainly seek another term at the gavel.

Phelan put the odds of that at “99%—because I haven’t talked to my wife yet.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans—and engages with them—about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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