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Politics

With Democrats In Washington, The Fate Of The Texas Legislature's Funding Could Be Up To The Texas Supreme Court

The Texas Capitol
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
The Texas State Capitol in 2017.

Funding for the Texas legislature is still in limbo after Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed its budget last month.

Abbott stripped the legislature of its funding in retaliation for when Democrats walked out in the final hours of the regular legislative session in May and denied Republicans a quorum right before a final vote on a sweeping elections bill.

With Democrats now entirely out of the state in an effort to again deny Republicans a quorum during the special session, the fate of the legislature’s funding could be mostly left up to the Texas Supreme Court.

A group of Texas House Democrats and legislative staffers filed a lawsuit in June against Abbott. They are asking the Texas Supreme Court to block Abbott’s veto before legislative staff stops getting paid starting Sept. 1.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently asked the court to throw out the lawsuit because Democrats left the state when they had the opportunity to reinstate the legislature’s budget during the special session.

“The Legislature, therefore, has a forum for addressing the very issue in dispute, yet it is Relators who are preventing that outcome by purposefully stopping the Legislature from being able to exercise its constitutionally granted powers,” Paxton wrote.

Skye Perryman is the president and CEO at Democracy Forward, which is a legal organization that checks abuses of governmental power. Her group is working with AFL-CIO representing state workers in this case, which she said includes about 2,000 state workers and civil servants. She said many of these employees work in nonpartisan offices that are essential to the legislature’s operations.

Perryman, along with state lawmakers, argues that Abbott’s veto is unconstitutional. She said the court still needs to step in — regardless of whether the Democrats walked out — because the veto itself is a threat to democracy and an abuse of power by Abbott.

“The governor made it clear in his threat — when he threatened to take away funding — and then when he vetoed that he believed that lawmakers should be at the capitol doing his own bidding,” she told KUT. “And that he did not intend to restore funding until lawmakers passed the laws that he preferred. That’s not how democracy works.”

Perryman said if the court doesn’t intervene many hard working people in the legislature could lose their income and health insurance, along with other benefits. In fact, she said the looming end of Article X funding has already created harm.

“There are people who are having to arrange medical appointments and make other plans about how they will support themselves and their families,” she said.

Paxton, who was indicted several years ago and is now facing allegations of his own that he abused the power of his office, told the court that Democrats are intentionally “causing any harm they have complained about” in the lawsuit they filed with the court.

“By staging another walkout, Relators and other House Democrats are forcing the Legislature into the result they say would injure them,” he wrote.

Some Democrats say it’s also ultimately up to Abbott to fix the problem he created.

State Rep. John Bucy of Austin said, while on his way to Washington, that it’s not up to the legislature to restore funding.

“The governor chose to defund the legislative branch,” he told KUT. “He is going to have to figure out how to fix that. We have to stand up for the legislative branch.”

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