Texas Governor Pledges to Prioritize Tax Cuts, Border Security

Abbott’s State of the State Address is his first since winning a third term

(Bloomberg) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott urged lawmakers to prioritize lowering property taxes, improving school safety and securing the border with Mexico in his first State of the State Address since winning election to a third term in November.

Those were among seven emergency items laid out by Abbott, who also cited as goals a so-called school choice measure, a crackdown on easier bail terms, preventing fentanyl-related deaths and banning Covid-19 restrictions. The emergency designation means lawmakers have the option of passing proposals tied to the topics in the early days of the legislative session that began last month, skirting a rule that forbids votes in the first 60 days for most items.

Abbott’s priorities reflect the concerns of his conservative base in the GOP-dominated state, and will set the agenda for debate in the halls of the capitol, where Republicans dominate both chambers. The governor has been especially focused on property taxes in recent months, and on Thursday urged that Texas devote $15 billion of its $32.7 billion budget surplus to providing relief to homeowners.

“Hardworking Texans produced the largest budget surplus in Texas history,” Abbott said Thursday evening in San Marcos, a suburb 30 miles south of Austin. “That money belongs to the taxpayers. We should return it to you with the largest property tax cut in the history of Texas.”

Abbott said Texas needs to create new economic incentives to lure businesses to the state, a priority for local chambers since an earlier program known as Chapter 313 was allowed to expire. He said his office would soon announce a $100 billion transportation infrastructure plan to accommodate the growing population and expanding economy.

Read More:  Texas Projects Record $32.7 Billion Surplus, Driven by Sales Tax

It’s unclear exactly how the legislature will seek to reduce property taxes, which are set at the local level. Levies on Texas homeowners are relatively high because the state doesn’t impose an income tax. Other top Republicans, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, have also called for property tax relief.

Abbott urged a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for anyone caught smuggling unauthorized immigrants into the country as part of border-security plan. The issue is popular with Republican voters, and Abbott has sent thousands of National Guard troops to the border to assist federal immigration officials. 

The governor advocated for a “Parental Bill of Rights” that would ensure schools “get kids back to the basics of learning” instead of “woke agendas,” and allow parents access to curriculum and libraries. He also proposed a school choice program via state-funded Education Savings Accounts that could be used to pay for private-school tuition or online learning.

Abbott also urged lawmakers to pass legislation prohibiting local governments from closing any businesses or schools because of Covid-19 or imposing mask mandates.

While thousands of bills have already been filed this legislative session, far fewer will pass and become law. Abbott’s priorities amount to a fraction of the issues that state lawmakers are honing in on this session, which also include expanding gambling, limiting transgender athletes from participating in college sports and banning real-estate purchases by Russian and Chinese nationals.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.