‘The Texas of Tomorrow’: Abbott, Patrick line out third term priorities

“We are going to do a lot of great things for Texas because it is your money,” declared Lt. Gov. Patrick, the first of the duo to speak.
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 10:29 PM CST
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AUSTIN, Texas (KCBD) - Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took their third oaths of office together Tuesday morning on the steps of the Texas Capitol building. During their inaugural addresses, each lined out their priorities for the current legislative session and their next four years in office, namely, what to do with the $188 billion budget for 2024-25, including a $33 billion dollar surplus left over from the last session’s budget.

“We are going to do a lot of great things for Texas because it is your money,” declared Lt. Gov. Patrick, the first of the duo to speak.

As the presiding officer over the Senate, Patrick wields considerable influence over the Legislature’s agenda, arguably the most powerful of ‘The Big Three,’ comprised of Abbott, Patrick, and Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Orange), the Speaker of the House. His top priority is lowering property taxes for as many Texans as possible; his mechanism of choice is the homestead exemption.

Last session, the Legislature raised the homestead exemption which reduces the taxable value of a property to $40,000. By the end of this session, Patrick wants it set to $70,000.

“You come first,” he reiterated, indicating the taxpayers, “it’s your money.”

The lieutenant governor promised the Legislature will approve “school choice,” also known as “school vouchers,” which essentially subsidize a family electing to move their child from one school to another; typically, it involves choosing private or religious schools.

In past sessions, Democrats and rural Republicans have banded together to oppose this measure, since they fear it would take money out of the pockets of poor urban or rural districts without enough of a tax base to support education with less state funding.

Patrick said he and Gov. Abbott will come up with a plan to keep that from happening while still offering school choice for rural communities.

He pointed out that a majority of Texas’ 1,200 school districts do not have enough students to make opening or running a competing private school economically viable, so those districts wouldn’t be affected. He said 49 districts have more than half of the students in Texas, such as 200,000 in Harris County and more than 100,000 in Dallas.

“No parent should have to send their child to a school that’s a failure, to a school they feel is unsafe, or if you have a child with a disability -- which is about one out of every four students -- and the school can’t help you.”

“We are going to pass school choice,” Patrick proclaimed, striking the podium for emphasis.

“No one knows what is better for their child’s education than their parents,” Gov. Abbott said later during his remarks.

The lieutenant governor also insisted the Legislature will shovel hundreds of millions of dollars toward rural sheriff’s offices in order to help bolster their pay. He did not specify how long the investment would last.

“We’ve got sheriffs making $35 thousand a year,” he said, “and deputies making $28 (thousand), and people in rural Texas deserve the same law enforcement protection as we do anywhere else, so we’re going to help those counties.”

Both leaders advocated for using the budget surplus to bolster the ERCOT energy grid, which Lubbock will complete its transition to later this year, and enhancing other parts of the state’s infrastructure. Gov. Abbott specified roads, bridges, and ports of entry.

They both also advocated for more investments in border security, blasting President Biden for “not doing his job.”

“Even the Democrat governors and mayors say he’s not doing the job,” Patrick shouted into the microphone.

Gov. Abbott said he expects the Legislature to also enact policies to protect Texans from the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which he attributes the spread of to lax border security. He said there were families at the inauguration ceremony who lost children to overdosing on that drug.

“They deserve action,” he stated, “action that will save other innocent families from the devastation they have suffered. They will get that action this session.”

Gov. Abbott said the Legislature’s actions this session will build “the Texas of tomorrow” for the next century. The regular session will end on May 29, so the clock is ticking on lawmakers to live up to that expectation.