Inaugural Offers Glimpse on Whether
Texas or GOP Will Be Session Priority

Capitol Inside
January 17, 2023

Governor Greg Abbott sought to promote his third consecutive inauguration on Twitter late last night with a photo that captures him from behind on a stage outside the north door of the Texas Capitol with his back turned to the building. While it's impossible to tell from the back of the governor's head if his eyes are closed to savor the moment or peering across a sea of empty folding chairs into the dark of the Austin night.

"View from the podium," Abbott tweeted. "Looking forward to sharing my vision for the Texas of tomorrow with all of you."

The social media post with the artistic touch raises a critical question that Abbott and the GOP majorities in the Legislature face and have 133 more days to answer during the regular session that began a week ago. Will they attempt to replicate their work from 2021 with an agenda that's crafted first and foremost for Republican primary voters while turning their backs on the rest of the Lone Star State?

Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Greg Abbott could hold the keys to the eventual answer after they are sworn into their jobs together for the third time in a row at the main event that the Texas Inaugural Committee is staging today at or near the statehouse on the towering hill that anchors downtown Austin on the north.

The third member of the Texas power triad - GOP House Speaker Dade Phelan - could be in position to ensure that the ruling Republicans don't turn their backs again on half the people of the nation's second largest state like they did in his debut in 2021. Phelan, a Beaumont developer in his fifth term, faced a tougher challenge than any rookie House speaker in modern Texas history with his election to the dais a week after the insurrection that Donald Trump staged at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 after trying failing to overturn the most secure American election ever in the courts.

But Phelan grew into the job after struggling for months in a historically independent and bipartisan lower chamber where the Republicans were content to march in fear and lockstep with Trump and a radicalized party base that had demonstrated a penchant for rebellion, violence and amazing gullibility. Phelan got his second term with the gavel under way with a show of strength and an ideal outcome to the new session's opening week - with strong support for his election on both sides of the aisle with position that upset some Democrats and Republicans alike.

While Phelan lets the House work its will, Patrick has converted the Texas Senate into a puppet show for all practical purposes as the only vote that matters any more. Patrick will lay out what everyone can expect from the east wing of the statehouse in 2023 after placing his left hand on the Bible as the Robin to Abbott's Batman for a full day's worth of ceremonies at inaugural number three. Abbott will do the same today - and he has the power of the veto to help ensure a voice to some degree in the lawmaking process. The GOP lawmakers on each side of the rotunda appear to be loyal to their respective leaders with very few if any more likely on paper to side with the governor in a dispute with the House or Senate or both.

A record projected surplus of almost $34 billion could be the catalyst for a legislative meeting that resembles the so-called "Super Bowl of Sessions" that Republican leaders and lawmakers used to describe their work in 2019 when they approved unprecedented levels of spending on public schools and property tax relief. Abbott and Patrick both want to pour substantial sums into the biennial push for slow the growth of increases in property owners have learn to expect despite repeated promises of tax cuts that never materialize. Another homestead exemption is arguably the most fair and balanced alternative that lawmakers will consider this year. The Legislature will be turning its back on nearly 40 percent of the state's residents if the property tax benefits fail to apply to both renters and homeowners.

The inaugural speeches could provide a glimpe of potential fights in the making with train wrecks on the possible horizon as a result of differences that the House and Senate leadership teams could be bound to have in 2023. Phelan wants to concentrate the one-time windfall on infrastructure needs like highways, ports and the power grid that collapsed less than two years ago in the peak of a deadly freeze. Patrick wants an infusion for retired teachers but the House could favor outlays for public education that are considerably than those that the Senate favors initially.

But Patrick's paramount priorities include proposals that are pure red meat like a push to use fears about critical race theory in academia as the justification of ending tenure that Texas universities have for the sake of recruiting and retaining the best professors they can find.

more to come ...










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