Breaking News
More () »

How Greg Abbott wants to spend part of the state's $50 billion surplus

Will Abbott be able to pass big ticket emergency items this session?

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Governor Greg Abbott named seven emergency items during his State of the State speech Thursday night and at least three of those could come with a high price tag. The term "Emergency items" refers to issues Texas lawmakers must tackle as priority agenda items during the session. While the budget always takes the first spot, the governor is able to set priorities afterwards. 

Will the Texas legislature successfully pass these big-ticket items? UTSA Political Science Department Chairman Jon Taylor weighs in. 

Cutting school district property taxes 

"We've all proposed using $15 billion to cut property taxes," Abbott said Thursday night. "Now we must ensure it provides lasting property tax relief."

Taylor told KENS 5 the State of Texas currently has an estimated budget surplus of $50 billion dollars. Abbott wants to use $15 billion to reduce property taxes. 

The state currently has a homestead property tax exemption of $40,000, which means a school district cannot tax the first $40,000 of a homes property value. The state then reimburses school districts for the lost tax revenue from the state budget.  

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick wants to increase the homestead property tax exemption to $70,000, which would increase the amount the State of Texas had to reimburse schools. It's not clear if the $15 billion would cover that amount but it seems to be what republicans are willing to spend. 

Taylor said both parties will likely be in favor of tax relief going forward. 

"That is a winning issue. That's something that actually cuts across the isle. Both Democrats and Republican's want to see property tax relief," Taylor said. 

Despite the price tag, Taylor believes property tax relief will easily pass.

Securing the Texas border

Governor Abbott said he wanted to spend another $4.5 billion to secure the Texas border. Taylor said the State of Texas has already spent around $4 billion around the last four years and increasing this to $4.5 billion over just two years would be a significant increase.   

"I have a feeling the legislature might balk at that amount," Taylor said.

Still, Abbott will have support from far right Republicans, whom Taylor said would likely want even more done, and Republican's historically favor securing the border.

"He's aligned pretty much with his fellow republicans in the house and senate," Taylor said.   

Border security would likely fall along that line and pass in the majority. 

Expansion of the student voucher program (school choice)

Taylor said school choice expansion has been a priority for the legislature in the previous two sessions but this year it has more support than ever before.  

Governor Abbott made it an emergency item and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has the item in his top ten priorities. 

"I created education savings accounts for special needs students. It worked so well a bipartisan supermajority passed it into law. Now, what we need to do, is expand that program to provide every parent with the ability to choose the best education option for their child," Abbott said. 

At the same time, Taylor said there are still representatives on both sides of the isle that have concerns about school choice and there's little chance it could pass along party lines.  

"There has been a lot of pushback and it is interesting where the pushback is coming from. It is cross cutting with both political parties. In smaller towns and smaller school districts, particularly those 134 counties west of I-35, there is deep concern that these school districts will be underfunded and they are going to be forced to consolidate or close," Taylor said. "There are also some in the business community who are concerned on out it would affect the pipeline to employment."  

The concept would give every student's family a voucher that would spend state money at the school of their choice. That's led some educators to fear that students would leave some schools with too few students, and therefore to few funds, to operate. Abbott did provide assurances this was not the case Thursday night. 

"All public schools will be fully funded for every student," Abbott said. 

Of course, it's still not clear how such a system would affect every schools budget, how it would affect school district tax rates, or if some schools would need more state assistance. Taylor said having the item pass is not guaranteed. 

"It's quite possible. I'm not sure it's going to happen. There is a lot of opposition. Not just democrats but republicans as well," Taylor said. 

Taylor said the voucher program would also quickly face legal challenges in the event it did pass.


Before You Leave, Check This Out