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$1 Million Spent On Nothing In First Special Session

We guarantee two things in Texas every other June: blistering heat and special legislative sessions. The first of these has come to a close with exactly zero bills passed and $1.3 million of taxpayer money spent.

The probable price tag comes from Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-San Marcos), who did the math last time the state did this dance. With each member of the legislature making $600 per month plus $221 per diem, the total is roughly $1.3 million assuming the session doesn’t end early, which it did not.

Granted, $1.3 million is a drop in the massive $127 billion state budget bucket, but it’s still a lot of money for no progress at all.

The Texas House and Senate remained deadlocked over property tax relief and how to spend the $32 billion tax surplus. The fighting between the two chambers has been incredibly intense.

The House quickly passed a property tax bill based on Governor Greg Abbott’s recommendations as well as a border security bill, then immediately adjourned. The move was a game of chicken with the Senate, daring the upper chamber to fight the governor and hold up one of the most important matters to their conservative base.

The House started out the regular session by doggedly holding firm on a plan to cap appraisals, which experts feel is misguided and will only increase wealth disparity among Texans. Now, the plan is mostly about reducing the rate of taxation for Texas schools.

Meanwhile, the Senate demands the tax cut come in the form of a homestead exemption hike, which would allow homeowners to claim more exemptions on their primary residences. In a bizarre turn of conservative politics, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who champions the Senate plan, appears to have the more progressive position. While the homestead exemption increase would still only benefit Texans wealthy enough to own property, it saves taxpayer’s money without harming first time home buyers or reducing the rate for Texas schools.

The fight got even more heated as Abbott began vetoing legislation on matters around education until the chambers came together on property tax reform. Now, Abbott and Patrick are fighting, making the battle even more contentious.

A second special session is inevitable. A huge chunk of the Texas Republican agenda is lying in limbo waiting for a compromise between the House and the Senate. The Senate did make some concessions to the House in their bill, but the House refused to come back into session to debate a compromise.

Despite controlling both chambers and the governor’s mansion, this legislative session has had some of the dirtiest infighting of modern Texas Republican history. Even as the property tax fight drags on, the two chambers are equally at loggerheads over school vouchers. It’s possible that both issues will be addressed in the next round of legislation, but if the first special session is any indication, neither side of the Republican Party is willing to listen to the other. And so, another million is almost certainly to be spent with little to show for it. 

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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