Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Texan leaders dispute surplus

Austin, Texas— The legislative session is more than a month away, but divisions are already emerging between two of Texas’ top Republican leaders on two key issues.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick both want to use the state’s massive budget surplus to provide property tax relief, but they appear divided on how far to go and how to pay for it . And in contrast, Patrick continues to make the power grid a top priority, while Abbott has declared the problem to be solved.

“Whatever needed to be done to fix the power grid in Texas was done,” Abbott said after the 2021 regular legislative session.

In contrast, Patrick said last Wednesday that making the network more reliable was “the most important thing this season besides managing our money.”

Grief centers are coming into focus as lawmakers prepare to return to Austin for a session beginning Jan. 10. Patrick, who presides over the Senate with enormous influence, returns after a decisive re-election victory. So are the governors, who will lay out their agenda in their state of the nation addresses during the first few weeks of the session.

In his run against Democrat Beto O’Rourke, Abbott regularly promised voters on the campaign trail that he would use at least half of the state’s $27 billion surplus for property tax relief.

However, on Wednesday, Patrick held a press conference on Capitol Hill, where he began outlining his legislative priorities. It came shortly after the Legislative Budget Board, a panel of lawmakers led by Patrick and House Speaker Dad Phelan, voted to allow lawmakers to spend about $12.5 billion more in the next budget. less than the amount promised by Abbott for the property. tax relief. To spend more, lawmakers would have to bust a constitutional spending limit, and Patrick said he opposes it, saying it “sets a very dangerous precedent.”

At the press conference, Patrick questioned the reality of consuming half of the property tax surplus, but suggested there may still be a way to go.

“I’ve heard some people say we should use half of the (extra) money in (property tax relief), which would be about $13 billion, but that would break the spending cap, unless we can do it.” don’t find creative ways to do that, and I think we can,” Patrick said. He declined to put a number on the size of any property tax cut, but insisted he wanted it to be “robust,” while laying out several other priorities he would like to see funded.

The next day, the governor stuck to his promise.

“More than any other candidate, I campaigned and said we would use at least half of the surplus to give back to the people whose money comes first,” Abbott told reporters after an event in Houston. “To help the taxpayers. “We’ll have to go into session to determine what strategy is best to use, but the people who deserve that money are the taxpayers of the state of Texas.”

It is unclear whether Abbott supports breaking the spending limit for property tax relief, a measure that would require a majority in both chambers to vote above the limit set for the budget cycle.

The governor has taken no other path to fulfill his campaign promise. Neither Abbott’s office nor Patrick’s office responded to requests for comment.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who specializes in property tax issues and one of the staunchest supporters of the relief proposal in the Senate, played down the idea that Abbott and Patrick were at odds.

“We’re still in the early stages of this, and right now … it’s probably not a difference more than a difference,” Bettencourt said.

The tension is an extension of a general election in which Abbott and Patrick ran separate campaigns when it came to property and grid taxes. Abbott promised the largest property tax cut in Texas history by returning at least half the excess to taxpayers. When the surplus first emerged in July, Patrick introduced a more modest set of property tax proposals, including $4 billion in property tax relief and increasing the homestead exemption to $60,000.

Patrick said repeatedly on Wednesday that he was concerned about using the surplus for relief that is not sustainable, saying that increasing the homestead exemption “is something we can afford and maintain.”

On the power grid, Abbott avoided the issue as much as possible in his campaign, as his opponent blamed him for the 2021 blackout that left millions of Texans without power in a cold storm. In the last one year, when he was asked about this, he showed confidence. During one of his debates with O’Rourke, Abbott said that the network was “more resilient and reliable than ever.”

Patrick, on the other hand, actively campaigned on his continued commitment to fixing the network. He bragged about how he successfully called for the resignations of Abbott’s appointees to oversee the network and made it clear there was more work to be done next season.

Patrick said Wednesday he would fight hard during this session to ensure the state builds more natural gas plants, which he says would prevent another grid collapse in 2021 that has cost millions of lives. People were left without electricity.

“We can’t get out next spring until we have a plan for more natural gas power,” the lieutenant governor said.

Patrick’s press conference comes a day after the director of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) warned that the grid is still vulnerable to extreme winter weather conditions. ERCOT and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which regulates electricity infrastructure, are currently working to redesign the state’s energy market, but the plan they presented earlier this month won’t go through the Senate. I didn’t do well.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators released a letter that effectively halted the plan, saying it “does not guarantee a new shippable generation in a timely and cost-effective manner.”

PUC chairman Peter Lake argued during a committee hearing on Monday that the current plan would lead to the construction of more natural gas power plants. But amid concerns from lawmakers that they will have enough time to make changes to the proposal, he suggested it was in limbo, saying the PUC did not plan to proceed with implementing the plan “unless We don’t get guidance from the Legislature.”

Abbott and Patrick make up two-thirds of what is known as the “Big 3”, the other member being State House Speaker Phelan. The Republican speaker has not been as aggressive in shaping pre-session expectations, but cautioned about using the surplus for property tax relief in a way that may not last beyond this session.

During a speech last month in Houston, he said he would like to see property tax relief, but warned that the surplus would not be large two years from now. Also, “no one is considering how much more expensive it will be to run the next government cycle,” he said, referring to the Texas Department of Transportation’s rising costs due to inflation.

In general, Phelan has been seen as more aligned with Abbott on network issues, if only because he has not been vocal about it since the last meeting of the Legislature.

Phelan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Nation World News Desk
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