Editor’s note: This Thursday we’re hosting a town hall with Gov. Greg Abbott. Ahead of that, we’ll roll out a series of stories to provide viewers with more context on his campaign promises, legislative priorities and his role in the Texas Republican Party.
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As the state’s chief executive officer, Gov. Greg Abbott sets the tone for how Texas operates. That includes delivering on promises, outlining legislative priorities and defining political roles.
Abbott will participate in a televised town hall across Nexstar stations in Texas on Thursday.
In his State of the State address Feb. 5, he listed half-a-dozen emergency items for lawmakers to prioritize during the 140-day sprint.
Those emergency items included teacher pay, school finance reform, property tax reform, school safety, student mental health and disaster relief.
“Now it is our time to chart a course that will make Texas even better — not just for the next four years, but for the next 40 years,” Abbott said that day.
State leaders largely accomplished those main priorities — with transforming the education and property tax systems getting top billing. Lawmakers devoted $5.1 billion to lower property taxes and injected $6.5 billion into education.
“Getting those resources where they’re needed, getting equity across the state, doing a lot of transformational school, finance reform that should really help incentivize and help our best teachers be rewarded for that,” State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said.
Buckingham pointed to the property tax discussions to highlight Abbott’s leadership.
“He had that negotiating trick,” she explained. “Last session we ended up somewhere around 6%, 4% … and so he came in this session and said ‘two and a half.’”
“He started out from not where most people thought he was going to,” she mentioned. “So, we took it from there and got as tight a package as we could get.”
Freshman State Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, said though the state’s top three leaders brought both chambers and both major parties together at times, there were missed opportunities to focus on other issues like health care. Proposals to expand Medicaid in the state and provide additional services for new mothers gained some traction but did not flourish.
“We did have the conversation about Medicaid expansion this session. We didn’t have it very sucessfully, unfortunately,” she said.
However, she added she did not feel like House members “had the heavy hand of the other chamber or the governor micro-managing our work,” which she explained was a change from her observations last session.
“The Senate kind of held the House hostage over a couple of really controversial bills (last session),” she said. “I mean, the bathroom bill was something that the Lt. Governor really held over the House’s head, and I don’t think the governor did a lot to help that, and in fact played into it by declaring it an emergency item during the special session in 2017. This session there was more respect for the House saying ‘These are not the issues we want to talk about.’”
Another way Abbott wielded his influence was as the session wrapped, by using his veto power. He vetoed 58 of the 1,429 passed by the House and Senate.