Abbott vetoes more than 70 bills amid property tax impasse

Gov. Greg Abbott addresses the press before signing eight bills during a public safety bill signing session at the state Capitol in Austin on June 6. Credit: Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott followed through with his perceived threat to veto a large number of bills in the absence of a House-Senate compromise on property taxes. The governor vetoed more than 70 bills this past week, most of which originated in the Senate, adding fuel to his feud with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The common theme in many of his vetoes: The bills can wait until after lawmakers figure out property taxes.

“At this time, the legislature must concentrate on delivering property tax cuts to Texans,” Abbott said in multiple veto proclamations.

Abbott vetoed almost 30 bills on Sunday, bringing the total this session to 76, which is the second highest in state history. Former Gov. Rick Perry holds the record for most vetoes, issuing 83 in 2001, according to the Legislative Reference Library.

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Abbott on Sunday added his signature to House Bill 1, the General Appropriations Act for 2024-25, which directs spending in the state’s $321.3 billion budget for the next two years, without making any substantial changes.

“This budget provides historic levels of property tax relief and does not allow government to grow in an amount greater than the increase in population and inflation,” Abbott said in a statement. “This act also makes targeted investments in areas such as public education, higher education, mental health care, foster care, law enforcement, border security, pension solvency, state parks and broadband access that will continue building the Texas of Tomorrow.”

The governor had until midnight on Sunday to sign bills passed during the regular session. He also had until midnight to veto legislation before those bills become law, with or without his signature.

Abbott also vetoed more than a dozen bills Saturday, which included a new objection tied to school vouchers, another one of Abbott’s legislative priorities this year. In explaining why he rejected a bill setting new training rules for fire alarm technicians, Abbott said the legislation “can be reconsidered at a future special session only after education freedom is passed.”

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During the regular legislative session, Abbott spent significant political capital traveling across the state to promote education savings accounts, a voucher-like program that allows parents to use taxpayer dollars to pay for their kids’ private schooling. The Texas Legislature failed to pass such a bill, mostly because of staunch opposition from Democrats and rural Republicans in the House, who argue that vouchers will hurt public schools’ finances. Abbott has said he’ll call a special session specifically to discuss vouchers again.

When the House and Senate failed to reach a compromise on property tax relief during the regular session, Abbott immediately called lawmakers into a special session. The House and Senate have yet to find a mutual agreement on the issue as they differ on how exactly to make property tax cuts.

Lawmakers in both parties lamented Abbott’s vetoes.

State Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said in a statement Friday that he was “extremely disappointed” that Abbott vetoed King’s Senate Bill 267. The bill would have helped more Texas police departments receive accreditation, a proposal that came out of the botched law enforcement response to the 2022 Uvalde school shooting.

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State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, also went public with outrage over Abbott’s veto of her Senate Bill 361. The legislation would have allowed teachers to serve on appraisal review boards.

“This was NOT Vetoed on POLICY,” she tweeted. “It’s shameful this & many other good pieces of legislation are falling victim to the ongoing political disagreement between the Gov & [lieutenant governor]!”

[Texas Republicans are fighting over how to split $12.3 billion in property tax breaks between homeowners and businesses]

In the last week, the governor has axed several bills authored or sponsored by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, the Senate’s top expert on property taxes. In explaining the reason for the recent string of vetoes, Abbott said other issues are off the table until the House and Senate come to an agreement.

“This bill can be reconsidered at a future special session only after property tax relief is passed,” Abbott wrote in his Thursday veto proclamation for three bills, including Senate Bill 1998, an uncontroversial piece of legislation that would have made changes to tax rate calculation forms for property taxes.

Abbott included the same message — this bill can wait — in many other vetoes he has issued since Tuesday.

Other vetoed bills ranged in focus from the sale of charitable raffle tickets to where tenants can find contractors to make repairs.

The rash of vetoes further provoked Patrick, who has staunchly defended the Senate’s version of property tax relief.

“This is targeted vetoing of bills that have nothing to do with the issue at hand except Paul Bettencourt is the author of those bills,” Patrick said during a Dallas news conference on Thursday. “It’s not a very good image to veto bills for no reason other than he didn’t get the property tax bill he wants.”

Patrick’s public barbs directed toward Abbott were unusual, given the two Republicans have historically worked out their differences behind the scenes. Abbott initially supported the House’s version of property tax relief but he has since asked the two chambers to strike an agreement that can reach his desk. Neither Abbott nor Patrick’s offices immediately returned requests for comment on Thursday evening.

The House and Senate have been at odds over the best way to deliver property tax relief since the special session began on May 29, the same day the regular session ended.

Abbott called for lawmakers to exclusively focus on a method known as compression, or sending state funds to school districts to help lower their property tax rates. The House quickly obliged Abbott and left town, but the Senate has remained in session while insisting on also increasing the homestead exemption, which is the chunk of a home’s appraised value that is exempt from property taxes.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.