Abbott Names School Finance, Property Taxes, Mental Health As Emergency Items In State Of The State

Originally published on April 17, 2019 7:51 am

Gov. Greg Abbott delivered his State of the State address today before the Texas Legislature. He kicked off the speech with a long list of platitudes about the state: from leading the nation in job creation to having the fastest growing economy in the U.S. to hitting its lowest recorded level of unemployment ever.

The state of Texas has never been better, he said.

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But his speech was also important for laying out the challenges still left to address. Abbott did that by announcing five emergency items for lawmakers to pick up. Legislative rules bar lawmakers from passing bills before the 60th day of a session, but with the governor’s emergency designation, any bill on that topic can be taken up immediately.

Here are Abbott's emergency items.

This has been job one (and, honestly, two and three and four) for Democrats and Republicans this session. The Texas House has been pushing to increase funding for the last few years, but the Senate has not exactly wanted to join in on the fun.

After the GOP got hammered in the suburbs during the November elections, though, party leaders began pushing an increase in public education funding as their top item. The Senate has proposed a $5,000 teacher pay raise to go along with school funding changes. That alone will cost more than $3 billion. Figuring out how to pay for that and push more money to schools will be a big conundrum.

After the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School, Abbott created panels of stakeholders to discuss what to do about school safety. The report generated from those conversations focused on making it harder for a person with a gun to get into a school. Abbott also pushed the idea of passing so-called “red flag” laws, which would give judges the ability to remove guns from people deemed a danger to themselves and others. The Texas Senate says that legislation won’t pass that chamber.

This is tied to school safety, but listed as a separate emergency item. Improving and increasing funding to counselors and other mental health providers to catch people who might become the next school shooter also came up during Abbott’s school safety panels.

This item goes hand in hand with public school funding since the largest part of a property tax bill comes from a homeowner’s local school district tax. At the moment, the big proposal focusing on this is a plan that would dramatically slow property tax increases year over year. Cities and counties say capping revenues, especially in fast-growing parts of the state, could harm efforts to keep up with new infrastructure and expanded public safety initiatives to match population growth.

This is probably the least “emergency” item on the list. The rebuilding effort has been going on ever since the rain stopped. But this designation does put a spotlight on rebuilding efforts and the current discussion with the federal government over getting already-set-aside funding to Texas ASAP.

I sat down with KLRU's Judy Maggio to discuss Abbott's address on Decibel:

Abbott also mentioned a few items that, while not emergencies, should be priorities for lawmakers.

That list includes:

  •  A focus on veterans’ health care and mental health
  • Combating gang violence
  • Creating regional centers to fight human trafficking
  • Fully funding the processing of rape kits
  • Fully funding border security efforts (currently $800 million over two years)
  • Forcing UT and A&M to renew their football rivalry game (yes, really).
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