5 Things We Learned from Gov. Abbott’s Town Hall Meeting

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At a televised town hall from the University of Texas at Tyler Thursday night, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addressed a range of topics affecting the state, answering questions from moderators, audience members and pre-taped questions from viewers. Some topics got more attention than others, and we note the five largest takeaways here:

Special session quashed

Gov. Abbott definitively stated that he would not call a special session to address gun safety, despite calls to do so from several lawmakers and advocacy groups. He explained his reasoning against a special session by saying that he wanted to avoid partisan fights in favor of proposals that could pass. “After the shooting in Santa Fe, after the shooting in Sutherland Springs, after Hurricane Harvey, we didn’t rush in to have a special session,” and later added that, “This government doesn’t require the legislature to be in session to work.” He pointed to his domestic terrorism task force as part of his plan to make Texans safer.

Property Taxes

When an audience member asked the governor what lawmakers had done to lower property taxes, Abbott spoke about what he called the legislature’s “transformative property tax reform,” calling the results, “The greatest effort ever in the history of Texas to limit government” by limiting local school districts from growing their property tax revenue more than 2.5% and limiting cities and counties from growing their property tax revenue more than 3.5%. He also mentioned his desire to cut Robin Hood recapture by 50% as a goal for future legislative sessions.

Mental health

Asked about mental health policies in place to help members of the black community, Abbott praised the actions of the Legislature in the last session. He mentioned Mental Healthcare Consortium law passed in the last legislative session following the Santa Fe school shooting that killed 10. Though he did not give specifics, he noted that the last session included a “record amount of funding to address mental health needs in the state of Texas,” and acknowledged the need to “Mak[e] more resources available to those who need it and how we provide it.”

Education

When asked by the moderator about what the state would do to help students of color that are not meeting statewide goals put in place by the Texas Education Agency, Abbott pointed to legislation passed this session that would “close the gap” through funding strategies “that allow students to achieve successfully regardless of what their background is.” He said that the legislation was modeled on the success of the Dallas Independent School District, which raised ratings by raising teacher pay and placing the best teachers in the most challenging classrooms. Asked in a separate question about pay raises for teachers, Abbott talked about the Legislature raising teacher pay so the state could “recruit and retain the very best teachers.” 

State politics

State Republicans have recently been embroiled in a scandal involving hardline conservative Michael Quinn Sullivan and his allegations against House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Asked whether it validated Bonnen’s resignation, Abbott said, “It’s premature. We need to find out what the Rangers are going to find.” After a different question about indications that Texas may be going purple, Abbott said, “Texas is a red state and is going to stay a red state.”

What was missing:

Environmental problems: In a state with a concerning number of petrochemical plant fires and explosions just this year—Baytown’s ExxonMobil plant on July 31, Intercontinental Terminals Co. in Deer Park on March 17, the explosion at KMCO in Crosby on April 2—environmental issues were not part of the discussion Thursday night. Genuine safety concerns for workers of these plants and the residents that live in surrounding areas is just one of many environmental concerns affecting the health and livelihood of Texas residents.

Healthcare:

Other than the topic of mental health, there was no mention of general healthcare in the hour-long session. Though Texas ranks 37th in healthcare and has one of the worst healthcare systems in the country, the state’s Attorney General Ken Paxton led a lawsuit against the ACA, despite the protections it provides for those with pre-existing conditions. 

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